Thursday, January 12, 2012

Supreme Court: Churches Do Have Some Rights, After All

Religious workers can't sue for job discrimination, the Supreme Court ruled Wednesday, saying for the first time that churches—not courts—are the best judges of whether clergy and other religious employees should be fired or hired.

But the high court tempered its decision bolstering the constitutional separation of church and state by refusing to give a detailed description of what constitutes a religious employee, which left an untold number of workers at churches, synagogues and other religious organizations still in limbo over whether government antidiscrimination laws protect them in job bias disputes.

It was, nevertheless, the first time the high court has acknowledged the existence of a so-called "ministerial exception" to anti-discrimination laws—a doctrine developed in lower court rulings. This doctrine says the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of religion shields churches and their operations from the reach of such protective laws when the issue involves religious employees of these institutions.

"The interest of society in the enforcement of employment discrimination statutes is undoubtedly important," Chief Justice John Roberts​ said in a unanimous opinion. "But so too is the interest of religious groups in choosing who will preach their beliefs, teach their faith and carry out their mission."

Douglass Laycock, who argued the case for a church school that fired a teacher for bringing about an employment discrimination lawsuit against it, called it a "huge win for religious liberty."

This is good news, of course, but the decision isn't as far reaching as it should have been. Therefore, there will undoubtedly be more cases in the future. Read more in this Denver Post article.

(H/T Ron Rizzo.)