Court: Some Religious Employees Can't Sue For Bias - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Court: Some Religious Employees Can't Sue For Bias

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that certain employees of church-run schools and other religious organizations cannot sue for job bias. The 9-0 decision stresses the need of religious groups to carry out their mission without government interference.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had argued against a so-called "ministerial exception" to federal protections against job discrimination.

The commission had backed a Michigan teacher who was diagnosed with narcolepsy but cleared to work. She sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act when she lost her job at a Lutheran school.

The Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church said Cheryl Perich violated a core church principle by bringing her grievance to the EEOC rather than using church processes to try to win reinstatement. Hosanna-Tabor, appealing a lower court decision for Perich, argued that her lawsuit should be barred by the First Amendment protection for religion.

In accepting that argument, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court, "The interest of society in the enforcement of employment discrimination statutes is undoubtedly important. But so too is the interest of religious groups in choosing who will preach their beliefs, teach their faith and carry out their mission."

Roberts said that when a person who has ministerial duties sues her church for bias, courts must throw out the case. The "First Amendment has struck the balance for us," he said. "The church must be free to choose those who will guide it on its way."

One of the most important church-state cases in years, it had drawn interest from dozens of religious organizations and civil rights groups. Wednesday's decision favors those in the first camp, concerned about government interfering with religion, rather than those in the second, who stressed the importance of workers who claim race, sex, or — as here, disability - bias can get into court.

The Constitution's First Amendment prevents government from endorsing religion or prohibiting its free exercise. Key questions in the case were whether the justices would find that the First Amendment guarantee entitles religious groups to a "ministerial exception," which already had been recognized by many lower courts, and whether the justices would find that teacher Perich, whose duties were mostly secular, was covered. click here to read more

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