Supreme Court justices find government line in church-state case 'amazing'
The Supreme Court hears arguments in the case of a women who says she was discriminated against when she was fired from a religious school. The school claims First Amendment protections, but government lawyers are suggesting church-state concerns don't apply.
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Perich threated to sue. The church countered that threatening a lawsuit violated the church’s internal conflict resolution policy. The congregation voted 40 to 11 to fire her.Skip to next paragraph
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The EEOC filed a lawsuit on Perich’s behalf charging the church with attempting to retaliate against an employee in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. A federal judge sided with the church and threw the suit out, but a panel at the Sixth US Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, ruling that Perich could pursue her lawsuit.
The Sixth Circuit rejected the church’s claim that the suit should be barred by the ministerial exception.
Religious rights vs. rule of law?
During the argument at the high court on Wednesday, several justices expressed concern that Perich’s discrimination suit would excessively entangle the government in an examination of the Lutheran church’s conflict-resolution policy and its desire to have commissioned ministers teaching in Lutheran schools.
Justice Stephen Breyer asked Kruger how the government differentiated between Perich’s Lutheran case and the case of a woman who might sue the Catholic Church for gender discrimination for limiting the priesthood to men.
“The government’s general interest in eradicating discrimination in the workplace is simply not sufficient to justify changing the way that the Catholic Church chooses its priests, based on gender roles that are rooted in religious doctrine,” Kruger said.
“But the interests in this [Lutheran] case are quite different,” she said. “The government has a compelling and indeed overriding interest in ensuring that individuals are not prevented from coming to the government with information about illegal conduct.”
Justice Samuel Alito questioned whether Kruger wasn’t implicitly making a judgment about the relative importance of Catholic versus Lutheran doctrines.
“You think that the Catholic doctrine is older, stronger and entitled to more respect than the Lutheran doctrine,” Justice Alito said.
Kruger disagreed. “The government’s interest in preventing retaliation against those who would go to civil authorities with civil wrongs is foundational to the rule of law,” she said.
The case is Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (10-553). A decision is expected by June.
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