Supreme Court issues “most significant religious liberty decision in two decades”

Finds that churches must be free to choose leaders without interference of the government.

From today’s edition of The New York Times

In what may be its most significant religious liberty decision in two decades, the Supreme Court for the first time on Wednesday recognized a “ministerial exception” to employment discrimination laws, saying that churches and other religious groups must be free to choose and dismiss their leaders without government interference.

“The interest of society in the enforcement of employment discrimination statutes is undoubtedly important,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote in a decision that was surprising in both its sweep and its unanimity. “But so, too, is the interest of religious groups in choosing who will preach their beliefs, teach their faith and carry out their mission.”

The decision gave only limited guidance about how courts should decide who counts as a minister, saying the court was “reluctant to adopt a rigid formula.” Two concurring opinions offered contrasting proposals.

Whatever its precise scope, the ruling will have concrete consequences for countless people employed by religious groups to perform religious work. In addition to ministers, priests, rabbis and other religious leaders, the decision appears to encompass, for instance, at least those teachers in religious schools with formal religious training who are charged with instructing students about religious matters.

The usual suspects cry and moan about the decision:

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said Wednesday’s decision could have pernicious consequences, by, for instance, barring suits from pastors who are sexually harassed.

“Blatant discrimination is a social evil we have worked hard to eradicate in the United States,” he said. “I’m afraid the court’s ruling today will make it harder to combat.

Read the entire piece.

UPDATE: Dr. Edward Peters notes:

The US Supreme Court has just decided the most important religious liberty case it has considered in some decades. And it decided the case correctly. And unanimously.

Hosanna-Tabor concerned the right of religious bodies to determine who qualifies as “ministers” in such bodies and to engage or dismiss such ministers substantially in accord with internal religious discipline, not secular employment law. The potential of this case, if wrongly decided, to curtail the freedom of religious groups to govern themselves was enormous. Now, Deo gratias, scenarios of what things could have looked like had the Court ruled the other way can be filed under “academic exercises” instead of “contingency plans”.

Now comes the proud papa part. Yours truly had a very small hand in it.

Read his entire post.


If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!

Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.


About Carl E. Olson 1101 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind", co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Word on Fire. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications.