My Take: Huge win for religious liberty at the Supreme Court
The Supreme Court handed down a landmark religious liberty ruling on Wednesday.
January 12th, 2012
09:58 AM ET

My Take: Huge win for religious liberty at the Supreme Court

By Douglas Laycock, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Douglas Laycock, Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Virginia, represented Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School in the case the Supreme Court decided Wednesday.

(CNN) - Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision holding that ministers cannot sue their churches for employment discrimination was a huge win for religious liberty. It was unanimous, it was sweeping and it was unqualified.

This decision was about separation of church and state in its most fundamental sense. Churches do not run the government, select government leaders, or set criteria for choosing government leaders.

And government does not run the churches, select religious leaders, or set criteria for choosing religious leaders. The Court unanimously reaffirmed that principle on Wednesday.

Cheryl Perich was a commissioned minister at the Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School in Redford, Michigan. She taught religion every day; she led prayers and devotional exercises every day; she planned and led chapel services.

She also taught the rest of the fourth-grade curriculum. She was required to complete eight college-level theology courses; she was “called” to her office by a vote of the congregation; and she was commissioned as a “Minister of Religion.”

When she got sick, Hosanna-Tabor carried her at full pay and full benefits for seven months. This was a terrible hardship in a church and school with seven teachers, 84 students and deep financial problems.

In its effort to preserve a job for Perich to return to, the school put three grades in one classroom for a whole semester. It went far beyond the requirements of law in its efforts to accommodate her disability.

Finally, at the semester break, the school reluctantly decided it had to replace her. When she provoked a confrontation at the school and threatened to sue the church, the congregation rescinded her call, for insubordination and for violating one of the church doctrines she was supposed to teach and model.

There was a well developed church grievance process that she could have used, run by the denomination, with hearing officers independent of the local church.

And there was longstanding church teaching that disputes over ministry must be resolved in that process, by Lutherans who understood the church and its faith, and not by the civil courts.

The details of this employment dispute were not the issue in the Supreme Court. Rather, the issue was who decides.

If ministers were allowed to sue for employment discrimination, judges and juries would wind up deciding who is a good minister, worthy of retention, and who is not. These cases end with a jury deciding whether the employer had a good enough reason to justify its decision.

In Perich’s case, a jury would have decided whether she was fit for Lutheran ministry even after she defied Lutheran teaching.

The Supreme Court unanimously said that ministers cannot sue their churches for employment discrimination. It defined “ministers” broadly, to include priests and rabbis and imams and persons with mixed religious and secular duties.

And it said that the church need not explain its decision, because the reasons are none of the court’s business. The selection and retention of ministers is entirely the responsibility of the churches.

Some churches will exercise this authority wisely; some may not. Denominations and associations of churches would do well to establish grievance procedures that really work, like the one that Cheryl Perich failed to use.

But whatever the ratio of wise decisions to bad decisions, it is far better for the American tradition of religious liberty for the selection of ministers to be entrusted to the churches those ministers serve.

Wednesday’s decision also protects the right of churches to define the qualifications of their clergy. Some churches have requirements that are forbidden to secular employers.

Catholics, Orthodox Jews, and some Protestant denominations do not ordain women. Catholics require celibacy, violating laws on marital status discrimination in many states. Some denominations refuse to ordain sexually active gays and lesbians, violating sexual orientation laws in many states.

There are no exceptions written into the discrimination laws to protect these longstanding religious practices. They have been protected only by the constitutional rule that the Court reaffirmed Wednesday – that ministers cannot sue their churches for employment discrimination.

Of course, some members of these faiths would like to change these rules. But who is eligible for ordination is a theological issue to be fought out within each religious tradition, not an issue to be decided by courts or legislatures.

It would be absurd for courts to order an end to Catholic celibacy rules, or to entertain a class action alleging that women are underrepresented in the clergy of some denomination that ordains women but has not ordained as many women as men. The legal rule that prevents such lawsuits is the ministerial exception that the Supreme Court reaffirmed Wednesday.

Both the rules for selecting ministers, and the evaluation of ministers in individual cases, are decisions for the nation’s religious organizations – not the government. That is the welcome meaning of Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Douglas Laycock.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Church and state • Courts • Opinion • Religious liberty

soundoff (541 Responses)
  1. olcranky

    I'm a big believer that religious schools should be able to refuse to hire and/or fire people in religious positions (i.e., ministering, teaching, etc.) or reject/expel students that don't adhere to the religious doctrine to which the school ascribes. There really isn't enough detail about this case to clarify that it was a religious issue and not a FMLA/ADA issue that led to the termination of employment.

    My questions are:
    #1 did her leave of absence extend beyond what is mandated under FMLA? If not, why was this a religious test case as it seems to confound a religious issue with FMLA requirements and appears to allow churches to flout FMLA requirements in the name of religious freedom (this would be problematic)

    #2 does anyone know what church doctrine she allegedly violated? I've not seen that reported let alone seen any reference to that violation and not the disability leave being the issue that led to termination of employment. If the violated church doctrine was to not question her firing due to her need to take leave, this would seem to be a case in which church doctrine would possibly violate federal regulations (some religious doctrine, including those that directly violate another's civil rights, are not protected religious freedoms).

    January 12, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
    • Chuck

      Keep in mind that, as a very small employeer, something on the order of ten employees, the church is not obligated under FMLA.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
    • Patrick

      Tell that to the mega churches.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
    • Jorgath

      The religious doctrine she violated was threatening to sue the church over an employment dispute, contrary to Lutheran teaching which is that such disputes should be handled by the Lutheran grievance process, independent both of the specific church in question and of the civil courts.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • tlarose

      Sorry Chuck! One of the rules under the FMLA guidelines is:

      Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
      FMLA applies to any public or private employer with 50 or more employees, as well as to all public agencies, and public and private elementary and secondary schools, regardless of number of employees

      Private schools, regardless of their number of employees, must operate under FLMA guidelines.

      January 12, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
  2. John Stefanyszyn

    ...strange to critisize the belief that all worship as their way of life, as their "religion above all religions".

    People believe in their freedom of rights and religion and yet they do not find it right when an "incorporated church" claims the same freedom of rights and freedom of religion as they worship.

    There is no absolute "right" in the belief in freedom of rights....each defines what is right in their own eyes.
    There will never be any true peace and justice with the belief in "self-rights" because one will always justify their "self defined rights" to have priority over another's "self-defined rights".

    ...but this is the way of man's law, of man's self-righteousness....even saying that all "religions / gods" are equally valid of existence and worship.

    ...but there is and can be Only One Absolute Good / Truth, Only One Creator God, with One True Way to Him through Christ.

    And even when this One Truth will be in sight, man will still fight for his destructive belief in self-rights.

    January 12, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
    • Surf_Dog

      Nice comment, that is until this.."..but there is and can be Only One Absolute Good / Truth, Only One Creator God, with One True Way to Him through Christ."

      At this point you contradicted your own comment. That is called hypocracy.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
    • Jorgath

      Actually, it's called hypocrisy. /nitpick

      January 12, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
  3. rob

    Sy2502- No it doesn't. You don't understand the law. Churches are not bound by the discrimination and hiring laws. Just as the article states. In order for that to happen the government would have to step in and that is not a seperation of church and state. The goverement was already allowed to decide who can get married, which should only be done by a chuch not a judge. No are we going to let the goverment decide who can work at the chruch? I think not.
    The church, and most churches, have a way to dispute these actions. The states and the government will uphold what the church rules. Just as they do when churches want to leave their denomination over the gay issue.
    "Denominations and associations of churches would do well to establish grievance procedures that really work, like the one that Cheryl Perich failed to use."
    She should have used the greivance procedures.

    January 12, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
  4. Surf_Dog

    There seems to be mixed duties here. She was a teacher engaging in the instruction of basic comprehensive education, which would be a traditional employer/employee relationship. She also performed religious duties, which are not a traditional employer/employee relationship. On one hand one could say that there was employment discrimination, in respect of the teaching duties.

    There are elements of this decision of which I do not agree with. There are duties that would qualify under the employment discrimination laws and there are those that clearly do not. Clarification is necessary going forward. A clear line needs to be drawn in the sand.

    That said however, one can hardly argue that the religious organization didn't try to accomodate her while she seeked treatment for her condition. But, there comes a time when a decision has to be made in regard to her ability to return to her duties. You can not expect any organization, religious or otherwise, to continue to accomodate without some form of assurance that the individual will return to his/her duties. The organization's difficult decision to terminate her services was reasonable. In fact, the religious organization should be commended for pretty much bending over backwards in trying to accomodate her possible return to her duties.

    I am not a religious person, in fact I dispise religion. In that regard, religious orders that wish to provide basic comprehensive education, as agents of the state which normally provides such basic education, they must be willing to hire educators that may not be members of their faith. This should definately be the case when government funding is provided to the religious order to run the school.

    January 12, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
  5. Steve O

    "Churches do not run the government, select government leaders, or set criteria for choosing government leaders."

    Each of those assertions are wrong in practice. If churches wish to enjoy tax-free status, they need to follow the same requirements as a non-profit, stay out of politics, and refrain from influencing their flock in voting a specific way on an issue. Otherwise, tax them for what they really are – a profitable business. That includes having the same non-discriminatory hiring guidelines that all other corporations must adhere to.

    January 12, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • Another View

      "they need to follow the same requirements as a non-profit, stay out of politics, and refrain from influencing their flock in voting a specific way on an issue. "

      I'm so glad someone else agrees with this basic principle. In fact, if churches are caught by the federal government with teaching their "flock" how to vote, they can have their tax exempt status taken away.

      Off with their heads!

      January 12, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
    • Unfortunate

      All business have discrimination in hiring, especially if they required specific knowledge, skill or training.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
    • Unfortunate

      "In fact, if churches are caught by the federal government with teaching their "flock" how to vote, they can have their tax exempt status taken away."

      So organizations like ACORN and every other political non-profit shouldn't have tax exempt ether. Good.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • Jorgath

      The difference is that there are different kinds of tax-exempt groups. Advocacy non-profits have very strict limits on how they can spend their money and on reporting what they do to the IRS. Churches have no limits as long as they stay out of elections.

      January 12, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
  6. deepthunk

    Just wait until “religious liberty” means a Christian employer’s right to discriminate against non-Christians in the workplace. Such as a Christian contractor that fires a gay employee, or how maybe an atheist, or a Muslim. I know all to well what “liberties” religious leaders seek.

    January 12, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
  7. Pheadrus

    Quote from the article;

    "This decision was about separation of church and state in its most fundamental sense. Churches do not run the government, select government leaders, or set criteria for choosing government leaders."

    And what planet does the author of this fantasy live on? Churches not only DO everything cited in that quote, but also force a vast number of us who reject their hypocritical doctrines to kowtow to their 13th century mentality... most noteably in their attacks on and rejection of science, logic and education.

    January 12, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
    • Unfortunate

      "but also FORCE a vast number of us who reject their hypocritical doctrines to kowtow to their 13th century mentality" You have a choice. No one can FORCE you to choose whether you believe in God, just like you can FORCE me, a Christian, to not believe in God. The choice is mine.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • tlarose

      Hmmm...usually christians say that the seperation of church and state is not what the founding father's intended when establishing this nation. It's interesting that the christians on this comment board like seperation of church and state when it means that they can keep the gov't out of their business, but not so much when it keeps them out of the gov't business. Hypocrits?

      January 12, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • Patrick

      You noticed that too? You know something is very wrong when the church, which is famous for rejecting separation suddenly start supporting it. And what a shock is in support of discrimination.

      January 12, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • Pheadrus


      Who said anything about 'forcing' belief in any god? My point is that the religious enter all facets of government with the sole purpose of turning this Republic into a theocracy. They ignore democracy in favor of verses written in a very un-democratic, ancient tome... verses that are twisted by Apologists of different opinion or faith, or by the charismatic preacher du jour. In short, verses that are twisted to suit an agenda. It's that twisted agenda that the rest of us... a vast number, by the way... must live with.

      I'm not forcing anyone 'not' to believe in god(s). I don't care if someone wants to waste a precious life following an ancient, controlling doctrine. But you can bet the farm that religious wingnuts would prefer to burn me at the stake than listen to what i have to say. And...that's a theocracy. That's why the religious need to stay out of our government...

      January 12, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
  8. hippypoet

    from the article "When she got sick, Hosanna-Tabor carried her at full pay and full benefits for seven months. This was a terrible hardship in a church and school with seven teachers, 84 students and deep financial problems." how come god didn't heal the poor girl and make it so she could return to work? how come god allows the hardship of this town with children? oh thats right, there is no god and this whole thing is just about money – yeah very humble, money! And what kind of sickness keeps you from doing nothing but standing and talking anyhow? there are alter boys to do everything but say things...and this was too stressful for her under the cloud of sickness – sorry, she took advantage of the money...screw her – but also screw the church for not letting her mouch off of them as any good HUMBLE AND COMP@SSIONTE AND CARING GOD-FEARING BELIEVER WOULD HAVE DONE....yeah right!

    January 12, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
    • TexasCub

      I'm praying for you Hippypoet.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
    • hippypoet

      fuc your prayers... p@ss me a beer and lets chat about real life – i bet you and i will get more out of it!

      January 12, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
    • AtheistSteve

      Yeah...pray for hippy...lol
      That should work about as well as this court case did for the fired minister.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
  9. Sy2502

    If ministers were ordained instead of hired then yes, a church would have the right to ordain whomever they please. Unfortunately as soon as they pay the ministers, that becomes hiring, and subject to hiring laws. Moreover, as long as the tax payers have to contribute for the churches (either because churches get government money, or because they get tax breaks) then what they do is in fact other people's business.
    This country is overrun by religion and bigotry and the author of this article is a prime example.

    January 12, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
    • Binky42

      Churches implode by themselves all the time. Why should the courts get involved? Religion is a dying pastime, just like baseball. Let it die on it's own.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • Matt

      I agree. Baseball, like religion, is lame.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
    • TexasCub

      Churches don't receive government money. Yes, they don't pay taxes,however, they are also not protected under employment laws; when you work for a church you are under the employment governance of that particular church which is the basis of this article. The woman attempting to sue knew that.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
    • BC

      Are you serious? This author did a fine job on this article. This is an important decision separating Church and State. If the State could get invovled in Church business then the inverse could happen (explicit Church involvment in State matters – I say explicit because implicilty people who run this country use their faith in making decisions and their faith influences their choice for this country – thus some indirect influence from Church into State). If the State can determine who is a minister, what rules a religion should follow (i.e. force Catholics to admit female priests, get rid of the celibacy rule) then the State can effectively control religion and take away peoples' choice to believe in what they want to believe in.

      January 12, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
    • Ironicus

      It does not infringe on your belief to follow the laws of this country, does it?

      You appear to be able to follow thousands of secular laws without it destroying your belief, right?
      ...Including the secular laws that effectively say you cannot bludgeon someone to death with rocks just because they didn't follow your religious laws..right?
      That anti-murder law is in direct opposition with any religious law that calls for murder based on religious values, or shall we all join the Cult of Death and grab the nearest weapon?

      Either admit you follow secular laws even when they go against your narrow religious laws or admit you don't know what the hell you're talking about.

      January 12, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
  10. The Bobinator

    I bet the author was teased in school for his last name.

    January 12, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
  11. Sagebrush Shorty

    All churches should be taxed.

    January 12, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • George

      Then all non-profits should be taxes too! Which is sort of like taxing a food bank for giving away food!

      January 12, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
    • JJC

      Sorry George, but non-profits don't make a profit. Churches do. Ever see the popes house?

      January 12, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
    • john

      JJC, the hpop doesnt live in a house.. and food banks will use donations to pay workers and buy supplies. If a few food bank administrators took money and bought cars youd then tax the entire system? not every church or pastor takes money for greedy purposes. you might..

      January 12, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
    • J.W

      Churches rely on donations from the members of the church. It would be like if I started a book club and everyone agreed to pay 20 dollars a months and I would use that money to buy everyone's books, but we had to pay taxes on that money.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
    • Dam

      George is completely wrong here. In fact, I cannot piece together a logical reason for making such a statemant.

      Non-profits exist to help causes. They seek to help society, nature, et....They exist for reasons that are inherently good. Churches exist to further their religous practices. There is no inherent good in that.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
    • anotherthinker

      Non-profits are not always charitable– it just means they pay out all of their income, be it in goods to give away or salaries, which are sometimes exorbitant. There is thus, 'no profit' for the company or organization– profits are always determined after all ordinary expenses– salaries, costs, expenses, are deducted. If you have no profit, there is nothing to tax.

      These companies do not pay taxes, but hopefully, the salaried employees and officers do!

      January 12, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
    • Matt

      Regardless of what a church is or isn't doing, it isn't categorized as a an NPO. That being said, I would be interested to know what qualifies as a subject of the Establishment Clause. Because if I can evade taxes but collect money than I want my own religion as well.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
    • J.W

      Churches do not make a profit either. If they have money left over after expenses that money does not go anywhere. It just stays in the church. Usually the members will vote on how to spend the money.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
    • J.W

      Churches fall under the 503(c) tax code, which basically includes all charitable, educational, and religious organizations.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
    • Bonky42

      Taxing would be a problem. Churches need to hang on to as much money as they can to pay legal costs for abuse and fraud lawsuits.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
    • Unfortunate

      Funny how everyone ignores the word "Congress" in the first amendment... *shrug*

      January 12, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
    • skued

      @JW, isn't religion a book club with the same book each week.

      A church is a religious organization that's mission is to spread and educate their religous beleifs. They also do a lot of charitable services as well. I don't believe that the charitable services should be taxed, no matter the religious affliation, those services should be treated like any non profit (like a redcross, habitat for humanity, etc...).
      But the religious portion should be taxed and there should be no deduction for giving to a religion. Church & state should be seperated completely.
      On another note, didn't Jesus teach his followers in fields and refused to go and use temples? Doesn't seem like you need a lot of money to follow those footsteps.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
    • WASP

      Definition: A business organization that serves some public purpose and therefore enjoys special treatment under the law. Nonprofit corporations, contrary to their name, can make a profit but can't be designed primarily for profit-making.

      lots of information on "not for profit" clears a lot of the misunderstandings as far as those companies.

      January 12, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • J.W

      Most churches do give money to outside organizations. I would not mind separating the charitable and the religious part, but there would have to be an accurate way of doing that for the purposes of using it as a deduction on a tax return, because the charitable part should still be deductible.

      January 12, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
    • Ironicus

      "special treatment" is the problem here. Special treatment violates the First Amendment and the Equal Rights provisions.

      In respect to religious organizations, "special treatement" is doubly barred under the Constltution and is a clear violation of everyone's Equal Rights regardless of what side you're on.

      That's what Equal Rights is all about. Equality bars special treatment. That's why we escaped Europe's theocracies and came here in the first place.

      It's the whole underlying principle of the Constltution itself. It is what gives us Freedom and Democracy and not a dictatorial theocracy.

      King George was the "Pope" of the Church of England.

      We busted FREE and here we are watching his despotic ideological descendants seek to undermine our whole way of life again and again, always encroaching and violating the spirit and letter of the law.
      Criminals wearing thick glasses painted black. Religious politics is a crime here. It is in direct opposition to our Constltution.

      January 12, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
  12. Patrick

    Anti-discrimination laws do not:
    Respect an establishment of religion.
    Prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
    Abridging the freedom of speech or of the press.
    Prevent the right of the people to peaceably as.semble.
    Prevent the peti.tion the government for a redress of grievances.

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to as.semble, and to peti.tion the government for a redress of grievances.

    January 12, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
  13. itswingsbothways

    For there to be true separation of Church and State, shouldn't then churches be cut off from donating to political campaigns and Super PACs?

    January 12, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
    • Patrick

      That and many other examples. The church as no interest in separation unless they gain special privileged.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • George

      All people have a right and say over government .... what you are saying is that only certain people have a right and say???

      January 12, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • JJC

      Exactly. As religion invades our government more and more they want to be able to dicriminate and not have to abid by our laws. Exactly what is the difference between what these christias want in this country and what the mullahs have in the middle eastern countries? Say no to hate, say no to religion.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • cw

      churches are not people, George. Try that one out and see how you like it.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • Bill

      Should you be banned from contributing to a candidate, political party, a Super PAC, or any other organization that you deem fit?

      January 12, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
    • Matt

      I may be missing your logic here, George, but that doesn't make sense.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
    • Ironicus

      George, everyone has rights. If you want equal rights you'll have to give them to everyone, not just the ones you like because they share you religion. That's how we are supposed to do things here. Equal voices but nothing that creates inequality or violates any equal rights.
      Religious laws violate equal rights to the extent that they are "enforced."

      If you'd like to ignore your "god" who demands you kill anyone who blasphemes, that would be your choice.
      You can choose to murder people but you'd better be willing to go to a secular prison for violating a secular law.

      January 12, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
  14. The Bobinator

    This is a good decision for church state seperation. It's a poor decision for workplace rights. What's to stop any organization from becoming a religious one and having a code of morals that employees have to adhere to. One tiny infraction and they can be dismissed.

    What I find disconcerting is that the author seems to blame the fired woman instead of talking about the case. This article smacks of bias and poor writing. Perhaps CNN should have standards for what is posted on their site.

    January 12, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • Binky42

      People can choose to leave that place of employment and go somewhere else.

      January 12, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • Ironicus

      If there's anything CNN does not have, it would be standards for what sort of articles they print. We have all their articles as proof that they really do not care. Their ethics are only lip-service. Whatever standards they may have, they are not ethical standards. Just ones driven by greed, that is to say "anything goes" in the "fourth estate."

      January 12, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
    • Bill

      It's an opinion piece written by someone who was involved in the case. CNN was upfront about that, in fact, it's the first thing you read.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • Normon

      "What I find disconcerting is that the author seems to blame the fired woman instead of talking about the case. This article smacks of bias and poor writing. "
      Hmmm.... I wonder why...
      "Editor’s note: Douglas Layc.ock, Professor of Const.itutional Law at the University of Virginia, represented Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School in the case the Supreme Court decided Wednesday."

      January 12, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • The Token Square

      Seems like there will always be bias in anything a human writes. Even your post, Bobinator, has not-so-subtle hints of bias. What's to stop anyone from declaring themselves the high priest of some diety and using that as a "shelter" to for all the financial and social activities they undertake? They can do that now. If you want to do business with such an organization that is your business I guess. I challenge you to ponder the concept of freedom of association a little more. It seems to me lots of people out there would like to increase the use of government to force association where there perhaps should not be any. If the court said it had juristiction in the selection/retention of religious ministers, how would that serve your right to exercise your religion (or lack of) as you see fit?

      January 12, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
    • Patrick

      True and now the church can fire them for being black, handicapped, gay or any other bigotry they hold.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
    • Bill

      Patrick: I'm okay with that. This is a religous group made up of like-minded people. We're not talking about a business. I would be incensed if a company fired someone for the reasons you give, but I'm okay with religous groups doing it. Shoot, I wouldn't be in any church that hated my way of life or my ethnicity anyway.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
    • purpleperil

      As Bill says, CNN states at the top of the article, the author represented the church.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
    • Patrick

      In your other post you talk about the church hiring based on religion. An organization hiring employees is by definition a business. I’m not surprised a theist would support discrimination and bigotry. Thank you sir.. you’ve done a great deed for atheists everywhere.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
    • Bill

      Patrick: We're talking about religion. Religion is a deeply personal thing, and, by the way, I'm not a member of any church. People of like religions get together and organize themselves. Some are pretty big organizations, but they aren't a business in the same way that GE or IBM is a business. Answer me this: is it reasonable for a Lutheran church to hire a Buddhist to teach Lutheran doctrine to childern? Why wouldn't you disqualify anybody but a Lutheran from that job?

      January 12, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
    • J.W

      I would be in favor of hiring based on religion only if it was important for the job. A Catholic priest has to be Catholic; it is essential for the job. It is like if I wanting to hire bikini models of course I will not hire a man to model for me. On the other hand say I was going to work as the secretary of a Catholic church, it should not be essential that I am Catholic, as long as I can do the job effectively.

      January 12, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
    • Patrick

      I have a better one for you bill. Is it alright for a church (any church) to fire or refuse to hire someone because they are black? So what is more likely, that a bible belt church will do as above or that a Buddhist will be refused position to teach Lutheran doctrine? Even so if said Buddhist is qualified for the position, then why no hire him? School teacher are hired all the time to teach subjects other than their religion. This is about anti-discrimination. You should be held accountable to all laws not just the ones you cherry pick. This isn’t scripter we are talking about.

      Nice try though.

      Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision holding that ministers cannot sue their churches for employment discrimination.

      January 12, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
    • Bill

      Patrick: I would resign from a church that made race an issue. It's just not a part of my belief structure. I would find another church that conforms better to my values.

      January 12, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • Patrick

      I appreciate that Bill. Ignoring that you’ve contradicted yourself from you above post. You leaving a church because is became discriminatory really isn’t adequate. That like saying, I am fine if my fellow Muslims murdering someone as long as they are like minded to me. And it is in the name of islam. I’d just leave that mosque.

      This is just an example of course and an exaggeration. But it gets my point across. I’m an Atheist.

      January 13, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
  15. thes33k3r

    Nevermind that it's all a manmade lie and we will all be better off when supernatural thinking assumes its rightful place....in history books.

    January 12, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
    • john

      i love it when guys like you with no clue what youre talking about preach about things you have no clue, and then blindly follow "men" on planet earth, blindly believing everything that is told to you, the same way a religious nut would blindly accept a preachers word. you are exactly the same

      January 12, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • AtheistSteve

      Umm...no. Most non-believers were once theists who through research and investigation have concluded that the basis of religious belief is flawed and lacking in reasonable justification. Indoctrinated children on the other hand are not making informed decisions when they are adopted into a faith. Being led blindly is a one-way street here.

      January 12, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
  16. Martin

    I find it odd so many non-believers want the federal or local governments to become involved in theology. Well, I don't really find it odd, because they, like religious fundamentalists, want to use politics to regulate how they think everyone else should live. Are you complaining about the religious right's involvement in politics but proposing that the government should be involved in religion? There is a name for such thinkers: Hypocrites.

    January 12, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      This was not a case involving theology. It is workplace rules and nothing more.

      January 12, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • George

      I highly disagree .... MarkinFL. It is about whether a court can dictate who will be the minister of a congregation! It happens all the time that a minister is dismissed for having an affair which is not according to church teachings..... people are people and they will have affairs ... all are sinners.......... In any other employment situation .... it would be illegal to "fire" a person over their personal life as long as it does not effect work. In house affairs are a different story.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • Taskforce4256

      For leftists of the atheist veriety, government is their religion. As a non-lLeftist atheist, I salute the decision. I am so very tired of intellectually-challanged leftie whiners who want every tiny detail of life to be "fair". I have come to the conclusion that they suffer from a mental disease.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
    • Nonimus

      I'm not sure that is true. Some employers are able to not hire anyone who smokes, which is a legal activity and as long as they don't smoke at work it won't impact their job.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
    • Ironicus

      No, it is NOT about determining who is and who isn't a "minister" or other such designation. That is just the "Big Lie" they used to justify gutting our Equal Rights protections.
      Ministers, and whoever is an employee of a religious organization, is an EMPLOYEE and therefore subject to employment laws, including the ADA.
      It doesn't make a bit of difference what their label is, or their occupation, or what sort of organization it is. The discrimination is illegal, yet the Catholics wanted to gut that part of the law and make it seem as though religious organization employees are not really employees.
      One of the reasons they did this is because it just went the other way in Britain.
      THEY now recognize employees as employees, where before the religious organizations were protected against lawsuits by pretending the opposite. NOW they can sue religious businesses as businesses, and their employees are now defined as employees. The Vatican hates this, of course, and so they pushed the SCOTUS to rule the other way and remove the equal rights protections by saying that these employees in America are determined by religion and not because they were hired as employees and so they are not subject to any laws because they are not "businesses" but "organizations that hire and fire people" and those people are not "employees" but are "religious members of a religious hierarchy" and so are now free to ignore every employment law, business law, taxes, and are now free to discriminate as long as they can say they did it according to their religious practices and ignore the fact that they are businesses with employees.

      It is an end-run around the Constltution. A clear violation of our Equal Rights protections.
      Let's say you get a job and are discriminated against because of your skin color.
      And when you try to sue, it turns out the business was owned and operated by religious people who are all "ministers" except for employees like you.
      Guess what? They can call you the N word and you can't sue. They can call you that as they kick you out the door and you can't do a damn thing about it now even though they hired you in the first place.
      They can make fun of your disability even if you're a US Veteran and shove you into the wall before they roll your wheelchair over the railing as long as they say it was part of their religious organizational belief system.
      There is now nothing you can do to sue them for assault if they can show it's part of their religious organizational rulebook.

      Oh, what a horrible day for Equal Rights! Every minority, every disabled person, everyone who prefers the rule of law over randomly interpreted religious texts should be up in arms and marching on the SCOTUS building with pitchforks and torches!

      January 12, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
    • Observer

      " I am so very tired of intellectually-challanged leftie whiners who want every tiny detail of life to be "fair". I have come to the conclusion that they suffer from a mental disease."

      Speaking of intellectually-challenged, no one should be ignorant enough to think that everyone who disagrees with them is suffering a mental disease.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
    • Patrick

      I’m a moderate independent atheist. (in my experience most are) I do not support this decision. Anti-discrimination laws do not violate any aspect of separation. This was purely political decision and not based on law. When a group (the church) suddenly reverses its position it becomes suspect. When is the last time you heard of the church pushing for separation? Taxes …

      Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to as.semble, and to peti.tion the government for a redress of grievances

      January 12, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
    • Nonimus

      That's hyperbole. Some of your examples are actually assault and I don't think this decision would hold for criminal activity.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
    • Ironicus

      Yet the case was over the illegal activity of discrimination that was clearly against the law. The anti-discrimination law says nothing about giving special exemptions or considerations to religious organizations. If they did, that would violate the Equal Rights clause and the law would not hold at that point.
      But guess what happened anyway. They gave a special consideration for the religious values allowing the church to violate employment law simply because it was religious in nature.

      If I discriminate against someone I previously had no problem with and based it on some arbitrary rule I just made up (which is exactly what all religions consist of), but didn't get the "special exemption" because my arbitrary rules were not considered "religious rules", then the equal application of the law is broken at that point, I would lose the suit against me while the religious employer does not lose based solely upon who is religious and who is not.
      That's unequal = unConstltutional = a violation of the First Amendment and the Equal Rights provisions.
      It is giving preferential treatment to religious values over my non-religious values. Where are my rights? Nowhere.

      January 12, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
  17. Jimmy

    "for violating one of the church doctrines she was supposed to teach and model."

    So, religion is like any other business, selling a product to consumers. The spokespeople they hire to sell these beliefs are like the celebrities who speak for Jenny Craig, for example. Gain your weight back, or bad mouth the company, and expect to be dropped. This church clearly feels that a "real Christian" would not have behaved as this teacher had, and that's their justification in dropping her. To do otherwise would call into question the quality of their religious product.

    January 12, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • stainedglassreflections

      Actually, it is based on a biblical model of conflict resolution found in Matthew 18 and in the I Corinthians command not to take a fellow Christian to court. The assumption is that the church community ought to have the wisdom to resolve its own differences fairly without making a spectacle of itself to the rest of the community. Obviously, many Christians do not follow this biblical injunction. Kudos to the Lutherans for taking it seriously.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
    • Steve O

      "The assumption is that the church community ought to have the wisdom to resolve its own differences fairly without making a spectacle of itself to the rest of the community. Obviously, many Christians do not follow this biblical injunction. Kudos to the Lutherans for taking it seriously."

      Just like how the Catholic church has handled their own affairs when it's come to child molestation. Kudos, indeed!

      January 12, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
  18. Binky42

    Good call! Tax payer money should not be used to settle squabbles within churches. Just look at all the different denominations of protestants out there – over 1,500 of them! That right there illustrates at least 1,500 squabbles.

    January 12, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      So you believe they should not be able to be sued? They should be above the law?

      January 12, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • Bill

      In hiring practices, yes, religious organizations should be above the law. It's against the law to hire based on religion, but it is not unreasonable for a church to apply a religion test when hiring. It's a part of religious freedom.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • Nonimus

      I think that is what the SCOTUS was saying, that according to the law, this is a religious matter and the Const.itution prohibits interference.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
    • Patrick

      So wait… you said hire. As in employed. As in a business… hmm. BTW the law prevents NOT hiring based on religion.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
    • Ironicus

      The Constltution does not prohibit ALL "interference" as this would violate the equal protections clause in those cases where equal protections are being violated. If your church murders you, wouldn't you want the police to "interfere" at some point or would you rather they get away with murder? Don't you have an equal right to have your murderers punished?
      Or shall we all just be criminals living in religious-based anarchy, disregarding all laws that are not in our religious texts?
      Perhaps we should just separate all people into religious conclaves where we would be free to murder our citizens when they spout "heresy" or "blasphemy" like they do in Pakistan under Muslim religious law?

      Which law is supreme here?

      The Constltution that says it is the Supreme Law of the Land,.....or your religious text that says it is the supreme law of all believers according to each person's interpretation?

      Do you see why we even started this country in the first place....instead of slaving under the theocratic thumbs of the Church of England and the Vatican?
      We started this country from tattered and mutually hostile religious groups for the most part who would accept no pre-eminence of any particular religious group no matter who they were or how many people were in that group.

      That is why we not only have religious freedoms here, we also are supposed to have a government that treats all citizens as equal under the law.
      Thus we have the First Amendment.
      It was something everyone was able to agree upon because it:
      1) kept the government from being ruled by any religious faction, and
      2) protected the government from being subverted and abused in favor of any religious faction no matter how large or small.

      But some people refuse to honor this part of the Constltution because their religious beliefs contain the use of oppression and insist on spreading the religion itself. This leads to conflict whenever anyone refuses to honor the private beliefs of another in the public square.

      Between religions, who is pre-eminent? Who's religious law is to be considered "Supreme"?
      Either every religion, including ones that murder and mutilate and use "re-education camps" or that sort of thing..get to do anything they want at anytime and merely point to their religious freedom as they bury the bodies of those they killed in manure....OR...
      ...We can have the rule of secular LAW be the "Supreme Law of the Land" and make sure it applies equally to everyone.

      Why don't some of you people who can't understand these simple bits of logic go start your own theocracy somewhere and leave our equal rights democracy alone.
      Religion, being interpreted by everyone differently, is nothing but religious anarchy, even in a theocracy.

      You cannot avoid the personal beliefs of people being personally interpreted by EACH ONE regardless of how intense your brainwashing technique because everyone is not in your religion much less your particular religious sect!

      Going in one direction you would violate our Freedom to Think What We Want, not specifically enumerated or delegated in the Constltution yet I think we could all agree that it is definitely under the control, (or supposed to be) of each individual Citizen of these United States of America and not any particular religious interpretation.

      Equal Rights or you can forget about me respecting your rights any more than you respect mine as I see it.
      You have rights to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness unless you don't think that any laws pertain to you and your religion, in which case I view you as a Domestic Enemy of the United States and seek your prosecution at all times – because you are not respecting the Constltution as the Supreme Law which, ironically, also means that your religious law is NOT.

      So there. 😛

      January 12, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • Nonimus

      As I said in another comment, an employment case is civil suit. What you are describing, murder, is a criminal suit, which the "ministerial exception" does not cover. Excerpt from the SCOTUS decision:

      "The EEOC and Perich foresee a parade of horribles that will follow our recognition of a ministerial exception to employment discrimination suits. According to the EEOC and Perich, such an exception could protect religious organizations from liability for retaliating against employees for reporting criminal misconduct or for testifying before a grand jury or in a criminal trial. What is more, the EEOC contends, the logic of the exception would confer on religious employers 'unfettered discretion' to violate employment laws by, for example, hiring children or aliens not authorized to work in the United States. Brief for Federal Respondent 29.

      Hosanna-Tabor responds that the ministerial exception would not in any way bar criminal prosecutions for interfering with law enforcement investigations or other proceedings. Nor, according to the Church, would the exception bar government enforcement of general laws restricting eligibility for employment, because the exception applies only to suits by or on behalf of ministers themselves."
      (http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/11pdf/10-553.pdf, pg. 20)

      January 12, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
    • Ironicus

      A "ministerial" exception is just that: an exception. An unequal application of the law based on religious status.
      It violates the law whether it is a civil suit or a criminal one.

      May I direct your attention to the Catholic Church which keeps insisting that they deal with these criminals "internally" and barring their employees from contacting the police, even going to the clearly criminal lengths of being accessories to every crime done by their employees by hiding them and shuffling them away from the eyes of law enforcement?

      And the large numbers of Catholic prosecutors who aid and abet the Catholic Church in destroying evidence, refusing to prosecute or investigate, leading to a multiplication of these crimes as time goes on?
      You can say these prosecutors have some say in what cases to deal with, but when they aid and abet criminals because they share the same religion and might sit next to each other in church, does that not show a criminal bias that must be addressed here and not just a civil one?
      For it is only because they ARE Catholic that they refuse to do their sworn duty in the first place, feeling that "dealing with it internally" is something handed down from the Holy See rather than from the law they are supposed to be ENFORCING!

      And not all that many escape because of the statute of limitations. There are plenty of current cases that are ignored and buried because "no one wants to go after the priest who seems so nice in church" merely because of their religious position within the religion itself. It is a bias that is given weight because of allowing internally-supported criminal behavior to flourish in the name of religious freedom, yet where is the religious freedom for their victims? Nowhere. Their freedom was ra.ped.

      January 12, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
  19. DaveLCAC

    The writer left out the fact that the Sixth District Court of Appeals actually upheld the ruling of the EEOC/Obozo Administration in her favor which just goes to prove again that elections have consequences such as putting the morons on the 6th who upheld this nonsense.

    January 12, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
  20. Bottom Line

    No one in their right mind would now go to work for a religious inst'itution. But thanks SCOTUS for reminding us of that.

    January 12, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.