The Government Should Keep Its Nose Out of Religious Schools' Business

churchThe Supreme Court sided unanimously on Wednesday with the Hosana-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School of Redford, Michigan, over a lawsuit against them claiming wrongful termination on religious grounds. 

Cheryl Perich was a ‘called’ teacher at the school before she took a medical leave of absence at the beginning of the 2004-2005 school year. "Called teachers" are individuals who have been called by God to teach, have completed theological training, and received the title “Minister of Religion, Commissioned.” Lay teachers, on the other hand, don’t even need to be Lutheran to teach.

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Ms. Perich informed the school principal in January 2005 that she was ready to come back to work. The principal expressed concern over her ability to return to the classroom, and that the school would pay a portion of her heath care costs in exchange for her resignation.

That didn’t go over so well. Perich decided to show up in February and occupy the school until she got written documentation that she had reported to work. She got fired for insubordination and disruptive behavior.

Rather than trying to find another job, she filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming that her termination was discriminate in accord with the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

The case moved through the court system until it finally landed with the Justices this week. All nine of them agreed: Perich has no claim. As a minister, she is exempt from many standard employment laws.

Chief Justice John Roberts stated:

By requiring the Church to accept a minister it did not want, such an order would have plainly violated the Church's freedom under the Religion Clauses to select its own ministers. ... The exception ... ensures that the authority to select and control who will minister to the faithful is the church's alone.

Religious institutions should absolutely have the ability to hire and fire leaders within their organization, for whatever reason. Separation of church and state is usually thought of in terms of keeping the church out of schools and courthouses, but it works both ways. The government should keep its nose out of church business.


Image via Bruce Tuten/Flickr

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