The Huffington Post reports that, in a unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court handed down a historic decision last month when it decided that those that work for religious organizations whose duties reflect “a role in conveying the Church’s message and carrying out its mission” are not allowed to sue over employment discrimination based on the First Amendment.
This decision is the first time the Supreme Court endorsed the “ministerial exception” to discrimination protections, HuffPost said.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote on behalf of the Court, “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. By imposing an unwanted minister, the state infringes on the Free Exercise Clause, which protects a religious group’s right to shape its own faith and mission through its appointments.”
In this case, Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the unwanted minister was Cheryl Perich, a teacher at Hosanna-Tabor. She went on disability leave in 2004 for what was diagnosed as narcolepsy. “Per its policy,” HuffPost’s article went on to say, “the school asked her to resign once her absence exceeded six months, but she refused. Rather than submit to the school’s request that her complaint be handled according to the church’s tenet of internal dispute resolution, Perich threatened to file a complaint with the EEOC under the American’s with Disabilities Act. In response, the Hosanna-Tabor congregation rescinded Perich’s call,” which, they say, prompted her to act upon her threat.
Perich said that because she mainly taught secular subjects at the school, and since the synod’s wish to settle disputes internally did not rise to the level of church doctrine, that she should not be subject to the ministerial exception.
The Supreme Court, however, rejected that argument because of the overall context of her employment. The Court noted that Perich had undergone “intensive religious training” to receive her call and that as a teacher, she did lead students in prayer, took students to chapel services, and conducted religion classes four days a week.
Roberts wrote that, “the amount of time an employee spends on particular activities is relevant in assessing that employee’s status, but that factor cannot be considered in isolation, without regard to the nature of the religious functions performed”, and, “the formal title given Perich by the Church, the substance reflected in that title, her own use of that title, and the important religious functions she performed for the Church” led them to conclude that Perich “was a minister covered by the ministerial exception.”