Supreme Court Decision to Uphold Religious Freedom Lauded
On January 11, 2012, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of the church in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), one of the most important religious freedom cases.
The Supreme Court ruled that the government cannot tell religious institutions who they can hire and fire, essentially commanding noninterference by the government into faith-based institutions when it comes to matters of employment issues. Arguments for the case were first heard on Oct. 5, 2011, with the EEOC arguing in favor of Cheryl Perich, who was fired from her teaching position at the Hosanna Tabor Lutheran Church and School on grounds of insubordination. The church, argued in favor of her firing using the First Amendment’s religious freedom clause.
“Courts should not rule on religious questions, such as determining what is the correct interpretation of church doctrine. One outgrowth of this principle is the ministerial exception, which its defenders say is aimed at keeping courts out of employment disputes involving religious institutions and their clergy, or other employees who perform important religious functions,” cited the church from a Pew Forum’s legal backgrounder on the case. While the Court heard the arguments, organizations were able to submit amicus curiae, or “friend of the court” briefs. The Muslim Public Affairs Council submitted a brief on behalf of the church and upholding their right to manage their employees based on who they saw fit for their available positions. “Religious organizations should be ‘free to “select their own leaders, define their own doctrines, resolve their own disputes, and run their own institutions,” ‘ MPAC submitted along with United Sikhs, Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, International Society for Krishna Consciousness, O Centro Beneficente Uniao Do Vegetal, and Templo Yoruba Omo Orisha in Support of Petitioner and Urging Reversal.
The case holds such monumental significance because it highlights our nation’s dedications to religious freedom, which also covers freedoms for faith-based institutions, as well.
In a rare judgment, all nine justices voted in favor of Hosanna-Tabor, pointing to the importance of our fundamental principles of religious freedom. “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,” wrote Chief Justice of Supreme Court John Roberts.
In the end, the case was won based on the religious liberty clause in the First Amendment that prohibits government interference in the affairs of religious groups and the selection of their leaders.