Thursday, January 12, 2012

Are You Called?

The Supreme Court of the United States unanimously decided that religious workers may not sue their employees on the basis of discrimination.  (Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC).  A teacher who was hired by a religious school was fired. She attempted to sue the school, claiming discrimination. The court held that a person who was "called" to be a worker at the church, could not sue the church based on discrimination in the courts.  Basically, the court is aiming to stay out of all religious hiring and firing practices.  Should the constitution (your rights) be left out of your church/religious organizations business? Should a person who is a minister, pastor, etc. at a church not have any rights when a discriminatory act has taken place?  Well, let's take a look at a historical perspective of church and state, as well as both sides of this very controversial issue.
 This argument of church and state dates back to the days of The Magna Carta (The Great Charter) in England.  In England, the king ruled.  The king's subjects wanted to limit the king's powers, and created documentation to enforce those powers. The Magna Carta paved the way for the United States Constitution.   The Bill of Rights is deeply rooted in the objectives of the original Magna Carta.  Thank you England. 
 The Supreme Court, in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, prohibits a person from suing a church for job discrimination.  This demonstrates our 1st Amendment rights at work right before our eyes.  The courts should not infringe on the authority of clergy men that are freely exercising their religious rights. How can a court, legislative body, or executive tell a church who to hire, when to fire them, or what they should teach. The purpose of separation of church and state is to protect our rights as religious people to practice and worship how we see fit.  Once the government gets a foot in the door by ruling on the hiring and firing practices of churches, they will not stop there.  We must totally limit government interference with church functions.  We must protect our own set of religious laws.  There should be no intermingling of the two.
However, how will individuals employed by religious organizations be protected going forward?  Let us revisit the church school teacher case previously mentioned.   How far can she take her rights?  Does she leave her "rights" at the door as soon as she enters the classroom?  Can the church now only hire a certain race of pastors, Sunday school teachers, or administrators?  Well, the court said that if the person was considered "called" to teach, and not just a lay teacher - then the hired person(s) could not use the constitution to enforce their rights. They must follow the rules of the church only.  The court neglected to define what "called" means.  A lot of times people use vague and ambiguous language to further discriminate or persecute individuals.  A private company can fire anyone, for any reason. Yet, if that reason seems to be discriminatory or a violation of that individuals rights, the firing can be challenged in court.  What makes the private company and the church so different? I understand that freedom of religion is a right, but you still need safeguards and protection when something is just out-right wrong (i.e. firing because of a disability, race, sex, etc…)

This is another interesting, yet controversial issue.  Standing in the middle, I really do see valid points on both sides of the argument.  I do feel that the court should actually define what "called" means.  Also, what about the many charities and businesses the church runs that are in the public arena. Do they say a salesman at a religious book store is "called" and now he/she can be fired on a blatant discriminatory basis?  What is right is right, what is wrong is wrong.  Yet, stepping in and telling someone how to worship, assemble, and learn when it comes to the spiritually can be a real touchy subject. What do you think? Wait, I leave you with this quote from an English King :

“I order you to hold a free election, but forbid you to elect anyone but Richard my clerk”


  1. I'm not sure what my point was going to be but you I think you made it for me with the salesman at the bookstore analogy. Great point!

  2. Insightful commentary and excellent topic, Mr. Taylor. I feel like your warning to limit government interference before it's too late should have been in bold because it is so very true. However, I respectfully disagree with your perspective that the court is aiming to stay out of all religious hiring and firing practices. If they really wanted to stay out of it, then why not add this case to the thousands of other cases they decline to hear? It's apparent the EEOC and 6th Cir. Court of Appeals feel the teacher has a valid point. I think the handful of cases the US Supreme Court chooses to hear are chosen for a reason, and their unanimous decision is their way of drawing a line in the sand regarding this topic. We should all consider ourselves on notice. Ultimately, whether Ms. Perich is a teacher who happens to be a minister or a minister who happens to be a teacher, she is still a person left with narcolepsy and no job thus no health insurance.