Loading
Hosanna-Tabor ruling could impact future religious liberty cases
Notre Dame law professor Richard Garnett.
Notre Dame law professor Richard Garnett.
By Michelle Bauman
Facebook Twitter Google+ Pinterest Addthis

.- The U.S. Supreme Court’s move defending religious groups' right to determine their leaders could significantly affect future cases dealing with religious freedom, a legal expert says.

University of Notre Dame law professor Richard Garnett said that the ruling “makes it very clear that the First Amendment would not permit the government to second-guess a religious community’s decision” in appointing church authorities.

Garnett told CNA on Jan. 12 that the decision was important in part because it clarifies that religious freedom properly belongs to religious communities and institutions as well as individuals. 

In their unanimous Jan. 11 decision – which was hailed by many as a victory for religious liberty – the U.S. Supreme Court justices upheld the “ministerial exception” that permits religious groups to make employment decisions without government interference. 

During the case, speculation had arisen that if the “ministerial exception” was not upheld, the government could force the Catholic Church to ordain women in order to avoid discrimination lawsuits.

Garnett said that although this scenario would never have happened, it was good to have the Supreme Court “explain why that could never happen.”

He also said the ruling could have a significant influence on other religious liberty cases because the justices “unanimously rejected” the Obama administration’s view of what qualifies as religion, sending a clear message that it was “inappropriately narrow.”

Cases involving religious freedom in the U.S. have abounded in recent months. A controversial mandate issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in August of 2011 requires health insurance providers to cover contraception and has very narrow religious exemptions. 

Catholic Charities in Illinois and Boston have recently been forced to discontinue their adoption services in recent years because they were not willing to place children with homosexual couples.

Last fall, the U.S. bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services was denied its application for a federal grant renewal to aid victims of human trafficking – despite excellent reviews – after it refused to offer referrals for abortions, contraception and sterilizations.

Garnett explained that although the Hosanna-Tabor ruling does not set a direct precedent for such cases, it has “thematic connections” to them that could influence future court decisions.

The case dealt with Cheryl Perich, a teacher at Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School of Redford, Mich.

Perich, who had a sleeping disorder, returned from disability leave to find that a substitute had already been hired to replace her for the year. When she threatened to sue to get her job back, she was fired.

Hosanna-Tabor argued that Perich had been fired for religious reasons because she had violated the church’s commitment to internal conflict resolution rather than suing in court.

The decision, which was penned by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., was based largely on the courts’ determination that Perich qualified as a “minister” and that “ministerial exception” therefore applied to her.

The court noted that Perich had been “commissioned as a minister” and was considered a “called teacher,” who had received a calling from God to fill the position. She taught both religion and secular subjects, and she regularly led students in prayer and devotional exercises.

However, in a concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas went further, arguing that the court should not have tried to make its own determination of whether Perich was properly considered a minister.

Thomas contended that “the Religion Clauses require civil courts to apply the ministerial exception and to defer to a religious organization’s good-faith understanding of who qualifies as its minister.”

He noted that the broad span of religious structures and teachings present in the United States means that “the question whether an employee is a minister is itself religious in nature, and the answer will vary widely.”

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote a separate concurring opinion. Joined by Justice Elena Kagan, he asserted that the term “minister” is not the central factor in the case.

“What matters,” he said, is that Perich “played an important role as an instrument of her church’s religious message and as a leader of its worship activities.”

He observed that the word “minister” is rarely used “by Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, or Buddhists.”

Rather than a debate about title or ordination, he suggested that the case was truly about the importance of safeguarding the autonomy of religious organizations to govern their internal affairs in accordance with the First Amendment.

Ads by AdsLiveMedia(What's this?)

* The number of messages that can be online is limited. CNA reserves the right to edit messages for content and tone. Comments and opinions expressed by users do not necessarily reflect the opinions or beliefs of CNA. CNA will not publish comments with abusive language, insults or links to other pages

RESOURCES »

Ads by Google (What's this?)
Ads by Google

Featured Videos

Ebola orphans thousands of children in West Africa
Ebola orphans thousands of children in West Africa
One year after Haiyan: Philippines rebuilds homes, lives
An Indian contribution to the Vatican's Synod on the Family
Christ Cathedral CNA video Sept 2014
Alejandro Bermudez of CNA accepts ice bucket challenge
'The Real Albania,' remembering those who fled
Pope Francis in Albania, "one of the most important visits of the post-communist era in Albania"
Pope Francis greets paralyzed man who risked all to see him
Franciscans on the banks of the Tiber in Rome, working for the New Evangelization
Pilgrimage from Czech Republic to Assisi and Rome for intentions
Testimony of young Indian who met Pope in Korea
Preparations of the Closing Mass of 6th Asian Youth Day
Missionary of Charity, Korea
Testimony of Christian Love during Pope's Visit to Korea
Religious Sisters in South Korea react to Pope Francis kissing a baby
Warm atmosphere during Holy Mass at Daejeon World Cup Stadium
Images inside Pope Francis flight to South Korea
The tombs of the early Christians
Missionaries of Africa, called "the White Fathers"
Italian youth give testimony after mission to Peru
Nov
26

Liturgical Calendar

November 26, 2014

Wednesday of the Thirty-Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

All readings:
Today »
This year »

Catholic Daily

Gospel of the Day

Lk 21:5-11

Gospel
Date
11/25/14
11/24/14
11/23/14

Daily Readings


First Reading:: Rev 15: 1-4
Gospel:: Lk 21: 12-19

Saint of the Day

St. Romuald »

Saint
Date
11/25/14

Homily of the Day

Lk 21:5-11

Homily
Date
11/25/14
11/24/14
11/21/14