In a previous post (Who Is a Minister?), I mentioned that the Obama administration had taken the Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church to court in order to defend the case of Cheryl Perich, a minister of the church, who was dismissed by the church. The suit was brought against the church under the Americans With Disabilities Act for its decision not to reinstate Perich to her job as a minister of the church.
This is the same case which Steve Chapman, a member of the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board used as an example to discuss his views whether President Obama is waging a war on religion.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court, in an unanimous decision upheld the church’s position that
Perich could be dismissed on religious grounds, saying that the government cannot intervene in the affairs of a religious organization in matters related to the church’s authority to hire and fire its employees.
Below is an excerpt of the Court’s decision:
Since the passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964and other employment discrimination laws, the Courts of Appeals have uniformly recognized the existence of a “ministerial exception,” grounded in the First Amendment, that precludes application of such legislation to claims concerning the employment relationship between a religious institution and its ministers. The Court agrees that there is such a ministerial exception. Requiring a church to accept or retain an unwanted minister, or punishing a church for failing to do so, intrudes upon more than a mere employment decision. Such action interferes with the internal governance of the church, depriving the church of control over the selection of those who will personify its beliefs. By imposing an unwanted minister, the state infringes the Free Exercise Clause, which protects a religious group’s right to shape its own faith and mission through its appointments. According the state the power to determine which individuals will minister to the faithful also violates the Establishment Clause, which prohibits government involvement in such ecclesiastical decisions.
The Court’s decision recognizes the rights of religious organizations and rejects the government’s argument that the government has the right to interpret the Religion Clauses of the Constitution when it comes to the church’s freedom to select its own ministers.
The Court’s decision also upholds the intent of the Founding Fathers in their desire to keep the government out of the people’s constitutional right to religious liberty
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary