January 13, 2012

Expanded Minsiterial Exception Case

On Jan. 11, the Supreme Court issued a ruling in a significant church employment dispute, giving religious organizations wide latitude in hiring and firing clergy and other employees who perform religious duties. In its unanimous decision, the high court explicitly recognized a legal doctrine known as the “ministerial exception.”
The case, Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, involved the dismissal of a teacher at a Lutheran school in Michigan who performed both secular and religious duties. The teacher argued that she had been fired in violation of laws protecting people with disabilities. Specifically, she claimed that the religious school had retaliated against her for asserting her rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. But the high court ruled that the ministerial exception trumps anti-discrimination laws. “The interest of society in the enforcement of employment discrimination statutes is undoubtedly important,” Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. wrote for the court. “But so too is the interest of religious groups in choosing who will preach their beliefs, teach their faith, and carry out their mission.” Read more....