"Judges are not well positioned to determine whether ministerial employment decisions rest on practical and secular considerations or fundamentally different ones that may lead to results that, though perhaps difficult for a person not intimately familiar with the religion to understand, are perfectly sensible – and perhaps even necessary – in the eyes of the faithful," the opinion said.
"In the Abrahamic religious traditions, for instance, a stammering Moses was chosen to lead the people, and a scrawny David to slay a giant."
The Hosanna-Tabor case presented several standards to determine one's ministerial capacity, the judges said, including the "formal title" of their job, the use of that title by both the subject and employer, and the "religious functions" of the job.
Fratello met these conditions as a minister, they wrote, as she performed a myriad of religious duties as a principal and had even touted her own "strong Catholic faith" when she applied for the position.
Her religious duties included organizing and leading public prayer over the school loudspeaker, helping plan school Masses and religious assemblies, and encouraging students to attend Mass and grow in their spiritual lives.
In her evaluation by the parish pastor at the end of her first term as principal, Fratello was reviewed on her ability to establish a "Christian atmosphere" at the school, how well she had fostered a "comprehensive religious education program," and whether she had promoted "a strong program of evangelization."
According to the archdiocese's administrative manual for the archdiocesan schools, a cover letter written by the late Cardinal Edward Egan of New York stated that the school principals had "accepted the vocation and challenge of leadership in Catholic education."
In conclusion, the judges stated that "although Fratello?s formal title was not inherently religious, the record makes clear that she held herself out as a spiritual leader of the School and performed many important religious functions to advance its Roman Catholic mission."
"The ministerial exception thus bars her employment?discrimination claims because she was a minister within the meaning of the exception," they said.
Fratello's lawyer had drawn controversy for a scathing reply he had authored in response to an amicus brief filed on behalf of the archdiocese by the Orthodox Church of America.
He wrote that "organized religion" is a threat to "enlightened rationality," and called the Roman Catholic Church "the most powerful church on earth."
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The American founders, he said, were "people of the Age of Enlightenment" and believed that "that organized religion and religious dogma are dangerous to a society, and what a society needs is enlightened rationality."
He said that "our American democracy" could be "undermined if religious groups religious groups can propagandize and indoctrinate school children without the constraint of a loyal American citizen and educator (e.g., a lay school teacher or principal) insisting that secular curriculum be properly taught."