In the wake of recent controversies over teacher hiring, and firing, at religious schools, CNA spoke with professor Rick Garnett from Notre Dame Law School to discuss the future of religious liberty.
In 2012 the US Supreme Court ruled unanimously in the case Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC that the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment prevents the government from interfering with the hiring or firing of ministers. The case also determined what can be considered under the ministerial exception.
A woman named Cheryl Perich was a religion teacher at Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran School for five years, before she went on disability in 2004. When she was cleared to work the following year, she was not offered her job back, and the school said they had hired someone else to teach religion. Perich then sued for unlawful dismissal, stating that her firing was a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The court said that her firing was in fact not unlawful, due to the religious component of her job, which the Supreme Court said likened her to a minister. The government cannot be involved with the employment of ministers, which would be a violation of the First Amendment.
The Establishment Clause would prevent “a situation like in England, where the queen picks the bishop,” explained Garnett. “The idea behind the ministerial exception is that our Constitution doesn’t permit stuff like that.”
A minister, said Garnett “is broader than just, you know, an ordained priest or pastor. It includes people who work for religious institutions, and who have a role in the religious mission of these institutions.”
The effects of Hosanna-Tabor may be seen in the coming years, as the exercise of religious liberty in schools becomes a bigger and bigger problem.
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