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Ear to the Ground

SCOTUS Says Religious Groups’ Job Choices Are Theirs to Make

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Posted on Jan 11, 2012
Supreme Court
supremecourtus.gov

In a rare show of unity within our nation’s top judicial body, the Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the American government should steer clear of interfering in the employment practices and policies of religious organizations. Take it away, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.  —KA

The New York Times:

“The interest of society in the enforcement of employment discrimination statutes is undoubtedly important,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote in a decision that was surprising in both its sweep and its unanimity. “But so, too, is the interest of religious groups in choosing who will preach their beliefs, teach their faith and carry out their mission.”

The decision gave only limited guidance about how courts should decide who counts as a minister, saying the court was “reluctant to adopt a rigid formula.” Two concurring opinions offered contrasting proposals.

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By heterochromatic, January 13, 2012 at 9:08 pm Link to this comment

Maani——she never claimed to be a minister, but i believe that if you do a little
checking you’ll find some, and I mean no more than some, basis for concluding
that she did have some ministerial duties.

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By Maani, January 13, 2012 at 8:51 pm Link to this comment

Francisco:

There is one glaring error in the court’s decision.  As you qote the last paragraph of the decision:

““The case before us is an employment discrimination suit brought on behalf of a minister, challenging her church’s decision to fire her.”

In fact, the entire point here is that she never claimed to be a minister, or have any “ministerial” dutis or teaching at the school.  This is why she brought the suit in the first place.

And although it is true that the next two lines of the last paragraph of the decision note that it is not as borad as some may think, my opinion (as a minister) is that they should have limited the application of the law to those who have true “ministerial” duties, either congregational or educational.

Peace.

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By heterochromatic, January 13, 2012 at 12:19 pm Link to this comment

this was a case that was decided with an outcome
contrary to my expectation and is an expansion of the
ministerial exception.

these damned Bill of Rights activist judges have struck
again

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By Jim Yell, January 13, 2012 at 11:17 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I am confused about just what they mean. Do they mean that church owned, for profit businesses may refuse to hire based up on Religous opinions? If that is the case than this is another disaster from these black robed goons.

Now if they mean that within the worship building they can not descriminate according to their religious beliefs, that would be intruding upon their rights.

In anycase the law should see that taxes are collected on any for profit enterprises and that hiring laws are followed, because once profit enters into the actions than they are no longer protected or should not be protected from paying their share of the cost of government.

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By jdean, January 13, 2012 at 10:57 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The Scotus is still around. I thought that joke cashed in about a year ago. Who cares what they think anymore.

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OzarkMichael's avatar

By OzarkMichael, January 13, 2012 at 10:33 am Link to this comment

Francisco, thanks for the information. i hadnt done my homework, and I appreciate your patience. Your participation on this thread was helpful, as you clarified the ruling.

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Francisco d'Anconia's avatar

By Francisco d'Anconia, January 13, 2012 at 9:24 am Link to this comment

Not to worry, this will be my last post on this
topic.  I have read and do appreciate the concerns of
the prior posts. At the risk of sounding repetitive,
the opinion is a clear but narrow carve-out.  It
addresses specifically what is covered, and to the
points made prior, what is NOT covered by this
ruling. Generally, if an issue is important enough
for someone to post a comment, then it is important
enough to take the time and at least read the opinion
of the court. Form your opinions based on the court
opinion, and not from a blurb on this site, Fox,
MSNBC, or what any of the talking heads say.  It is
likely most if not all of them did not follow the
facts of the case nor read the opinion before forming
theirs.  Below, the final paragraph from the courts
decision.  It is pretty clear what is and is not
covered. Please pay special attention to their use of
“the case before us” and “We express no view on
whether the exception bars other types of suits…” 
That is the type of wording that narrows a decision
in order to get as large of a consensus from the
court as possible.

“The case before us is an employment discrimination
suit brought on behalf of a minister, challenging her
church’s decision to fire her. Today we hold only
that the ministerial exception bars such a suit. We
express no view on whether the exception bars other
types of suits, including actions by employees
alleging breach of contract or tortious conduct by
their religious employers. There will be time enough
to address the applicability of the exception to
other circumstances if and when they arise. The
interest of society in the enforcement of employment
discrimination statutes is undoubtedly important.But
so too is the interest of religious groups in
choosing who will preach their beliefs, teach their
faith, and carry out their mission. 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 judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth
Circuit is reversed.

It is so ordered.

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By OzarkMichael, January 13, 2012 at 7:07 am Link to this comment

I could see the hesitancy of SCOTUS to rule on employment practices within the church if the employee had some issue with doctrine. Was this about doctrine, or about a social issue like abortion, or a personal habit like adultery? No it was about a non-doctrinal, value-neutral medical problem.

The case had nothing to do with religious beliefs or religious practice, and seems to reflect only on the fact that the employer is religious.

Apparently any other employer, including including OWS(hypothetically as IMAX stated), or even me in my little clinic, would have been found guilty in this case, but the church was not. That doesnt seem fair, even to a fundamentalist Christian like myself.

What if the pastor was beating up the employee? Does the ‘separation’ of church and state provide the church an exemption from all law and morality? Of course not.

I am not saying SCOTUS is wrong(yet), but I dont get it.

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Francisco d'Anconia's avatar

By Francisco d'Anconia, January 13, 2012 at 2:10 am Link to this comment

Certain decisions are based in ideology and or
partisan politics and are split 5-4. Given the
current makeup of the court, when all 9 agree on a
topic as controversial as religion, 1st amendment,
establishment,and workers rights, that is a fair
indicator that there is no controversy and the
decision is beyond reproach (at least for a very long
time). Originalist vs Living Constitution are in
agreement on this one. Its hard to imagine a more
fractured group coming to the same conclusion if
there was any doubt.  Your mention of “assumed
connection to the supernatural” strays from the facts
of the case and suggests a bias against religion. The
bottom line is this is now the law of the land, and
the hiring firing laws that apply to most businesses
to not apply here. If one feels that religious groups
do not deserve this carve out then the only remedy is
to amend the constitution. If Scalia, Thomas,
Roberts, & Alito were replaced by Obama, the decision
would still be the same.  As far as the meaning of
the constitution and the 1st amendment, it’s not what
you or I say, its what a minimum of 5 appointed for
life judges day, and in this case all 9 said so. 
Which means that is what the constitution means.
Which means it is so ordered.  Which means that the justices are not necessarily for or against religion,
any more than they were for or against animal
cruelty, firearms near schools, or child abuse (as in
recent cases).

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Blueokie's avatar

By Blueokie, January 12, 2012 at 11:20 pm Link to this comment

Francisco -

Yes, I’ve read the Constitution several times and a fair amount of history surrounding it, thanks for your concern.

Your argument drops in its second sentence where you proclaim its a two way street.  The Constitution is not about sharing power, when its what you want versus the Constitution, you lose.

Contrary to the myth, the Pilgrims didn’t come to the New World for the freedom to be Christians, they came so that every other human around them would be their brand of Christian.  The original colonies all had specific denominations set as the official religion of the colony in their Charters, and under the Articles of the Confederacy, States had official religions.  Candidates had to be vetted by church elders, it was an easier life if you belonged to the right people.

For its part the Government can’t establish (pick a winner) a religion, or prohibit the free exercise thereof (tell one it isn’t a real religion because they don’t do it right.  It isn’t about the Government sharing power.

Religious Corporations are the prototypes of “Corporate Personhood” due to their assumed connection to the supernatural.  They have always been people with “special rights”, now that that isn’t unique, they need more “rights”.  This
was a case about workers rights, the Court essentially said if you work for a Religious Corporation, watching a 30 minute video about orthodoxy releases them from the burden of the Law.

I absolutely agree with your first post about the Government wanting to lose thiscase.

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Francisco d'Anconia's avatar

By Francisco d'Anconia, January 12, 2012 at 3:59 pm Link to this comment

Blueokie, I think you are misinterpreting the 1st amendment.  It is a 2 way street whereby govt can not
prohibit the free exercise thereof.  Here is the exact
text. “Congress shall make no law respecting an
establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free
exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech,
or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably
to assemble, and to petition the government for a
redress of grievances.”  The key to this decision, if
you review the opinion and the oral arguments is
...prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

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Blueokie's avatar

By Blueokie, January 12, 2012 at 3:39 pm Link to this comment

The problem is the purposeful misinterpretation of the Constitution.  The First Amendment was about keeping religion out of the Government, not Government out of religion.

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Francisco d'Anconia's avatar

By Francisco d'Anconia, January 12, 2012 at 10:41 am Link to this comment

Given the makeup of the court today, a unanimous
decision pro religion anti government should indicate
something was terribly wrong with this case.  Once
again, people fail to realize the consequences of
taking a piss poor test case, with wagons circled, to
the Supremes.  Like Citizens United (Hillary the
Movie), DC and Chicago Gun Ban, to name recent
examples, egos should stand aside, common sense
should prevail, and these weak cases should be
dropped until a better one is used to set precedent. 
If you still are not convinced this was a horrible
test case, then read the transcript of the oral
arguments before going on a tangent. Lastly, we
haven’t had capable and articulate Solicitor General
(regardless of ideology) since the days of Olsen,
Waxman, Clement, and Dellenger. (not excluding those
prior as well)

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By radicalfemme, January 12, 2012 at 7:28 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The last I knew the argument was over these religious organizations getting tax payer funds but not wanting to comply with US laws when it comes to hiring discrimination.  If they want tax payer funds then they should be obligated to follow US laws.  I personally don’t like all these religious groups with their hands in my pocket to begin with. As far as I am concerned it goes against the Constitution.  I should not be obligated as a taxpayer to finance their beliefs.

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IMax's avatar

By IMax, January 12, 2012 at 6:52 am Link to this comment

gerard,

First, try to imagine a humble belief in your own fallibility.

Next, try to imagine someone filing a suit against OWS in the way Occupy chooses the group’s ‘horizontal’ leadership structure.

Now imagine the Supreme Court ruling that the government - the Military Industrial Complex - has no right to interfere with how Occupy chooses it’s agenda or those who will represent Occupy.

Lastly, imagine the government forcing you to retain an individual to represent you who occasionally, uncontrollably, falls asleep, or, an individual who has a diminished ability to reason and concentrate on the simplest of tasks after you have determined that person to be incapable of representing as well as yourself or, another qualified and capable individual.

-

It seems to me there are a few well reasoned issues at play which lead the court to this unanimous decision.

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By Big B, January 12, 2012 at 6:12 am Link to this comment

The largest employer in the US, the pentagon, doesn’t have to follow EEOC regulations. Why should anybody else?

Welcome to the race to the bottom.

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PatrickHenry's avatar

By PatrickHenry, January 12, 2012 at 3:55 am Link to this comment

As long as taxes are being paid and minimum wage requirements are met all within the purview of the law.

Religion is just another business.

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By MeHere, January 11, 2012 at 6:56 pm Link to this comment

It’s crystal clear now. Government is off-limits when it comes to religious groups (i.e. re labor practices,) but religious groups are not off-limits when it comes to government (i.e. lobbying and bribing officials.)

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By gerard, January 11, 2012 at 5:04 pm Link to this comment

QUOTE…...UNQUOTE

  “The interest of society in the enforcement of .........(fill the blank)  is great, but .......”

The interest of society in the enforcement of fair voting practices is great, but if SCOTus says that corporations are people, so be it!

The interest of society in the enforcement of some measure of justice among people of all classes is great, but if it is in the interest of the 1% to cheat the other 99% and escape scot free, get over it!

The interest of society in the enforcement of laws banning the use of torture and of the right to habeas corpus is great, but ..... if the President quietly decides not to bother to close Guantanamo and instead issues a directive that American citizns can also be included in the “rendition” program, well, sit down and shut up!

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