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-Supreme Court: Unanimous Ruling for Religious Freedom

by Dr. D ~ January 12th, 2012

Supreme Court IMG_1062

                       (Image by OZinOH via Flickr)

It is very rare indeed for an unanimous decision to be handed down by the Supreme Court of the United States. However in this key case on religious freedom that is exactly what has happened.

The SCOTUS justices ruled that the government has no right to interfere with the decision of a religious group to choose or fire one of its ministers.

According to Chief Justice Roberts:

”Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”–bar the government from interfering with the decision of a religious group to fire one of its ministers.

“controversy between church and state over religious offices is hardly new.” He noted that the founders sought to foreclose the possibility of a national church.

“The Establishment Clause prevents the government from appointing ministers,” Roberts said, and the “Free Exercise Clause prevents it from interfering with the freedom of religious groups to select their own. ”

“We cannot accept the remarkable view that the Religion Clauses have nothing to say about a religious organization’s freedom to select its own ministers, ”

while the interest of society in the enforcement of employment discrimination statutes is important, “so too is the interest of religious groups in choosing who will preach their beliefs, teach their faith, and carry out their mission.”

He said, “When a minister who has been fired sues her church alleging that her termination was discriminatory, the First Amendment has struck the balance for us. The church must be free to choose those who will guide it on its way.”

The court had sharp criticism of the Obama Justice Department’s characterization of the case as no different than that of a labor union or a social club when it came to the organization’s freedom to choose its leaders.

The case revolved around the firing of Cheryl Perich, who had been a commissioned minister and teacher at a school run by the Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church. Perich became sick with narcolepsy and was no longer able to complete her duties at the school and was asked to resign. She refused and was dismissed from her position at the church and school.

Perich then contacted the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which subsequently filed a suit against the church arguing that Perich’s firing was in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Response: The resolution of this case is encouraging to say the least. The fact that it was unanimous gives one hope that religious freedom will be maintained in the USA at least for some time.

There are a number of activist organizations hoping to restrict religious freedoms in the USA through defining a new hierarchy of civil rights which trump the First Amendment. In this case the Obama Administration was supporting the rights designated by the Americans With Disabilities Act over religious freedom. 

As much as one would like to sympathize with Ms. Perich, she was a commissioned minister and not just another school teacher or employee. The Justices ruled that religious freedom, the First Amendment, and the right of religious organizations to choose their own leadership trumps the Disabilities Act. If not, than our religious freedoms in this country would have been severely compromised.             *Top

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