The Supreme Court of the United States has been asked to hear some unusually pivotal cases in recent time, even for that increasingly political body.
In this one, theology was up for debate, as WaPo put it.
From homeland security to healthcare, the federal government now has the power to reach further than ever into American society. But so far, the feds have sensibly stayed out of the business of appointing religious leaders.
Now, in a stunning about-face, the Obama Administration has urged the Supreme Court to allow courts to decide virtually any dispute between a church and its ministers. In the administration’s view, juries and judges, not congregations and bishops, should have the final say on who is fit for religious ministry. Fundamental questions of theology would be resolved in the same way as slip-and-fall cases. Plaintiffs’ lawyers would go into a religious feeding frenzy.
The DOJ made this astounding declaration in its brief for a Supreme Court case called Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which some observers have called the most important religious freedom case in 20 years.
The ruling came today.
The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled unanimously in favor of a church’s right to be itself, and its freedom to assign its ministries:
This is an enormous and timely victory for religious freedom:
“In a groundbreaking case, the Supreme Court on Wednesday held for the first time that religious employees of a church cannot sue for employment discrimination.
“But the court’s unanimous decision in a case from Michigan did not specify the distinction between a secular employee, who can take advantage of the government’s protection from discrimination and retaliation, and a religious employee, who can’t.
“It was, nevertheless, the first time the high court has acknowledged the existence of a “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 employees of these institutions.
Read the whole post and its links, Anchoress put it all together well. Picture Justices Scalia and Kagan jointly outraged “at the government’s constitution-shredding argument.”
Chief Justice John Roberts noted in the court’s opinion
this was the first time the high court has ever considered the “ministerial exception,”
…but likely the first among…more.
The Obama administration tested the waters with an extreme gambit. They’ve now established that this court, in its current make-up, will rule in favor of the churches against overt threats to the most fundamental of our religious freedoms. I expect that if Obama is re-elected, we’ll see continued–but measured–attempts to weaken religious freedoms, as it attempts to discern precisely where the lines are, and how they may be crossed. Chief Justice Roberts appears to acknowledge as much, in writing the opinion.
Meanwhile, this is very good–yes, reassuring–news.
Shot across the bow noted.