By the time you read this, the election will be over. However, in light of the great day it is when we can exercise our right to vote and select our leaders, I thought it would be appropriate to blog on the 1st great freedom found in the Bill of Rights -- the right to exercise one's religious beliefs. In discussing this concept, I want to tell you about a small Lutheran school that came up against the might of the EEOC and the Obama Administration.
In Hosannah-Tabor Church v. EEOC,
the Obama Administration filed a discrimination and retaliation lawsuit against the school. Ms. Perich, a teacher at the school, took a leave of
absence due to a medical condition. Ms. Perich was upset the school had given her position to another when she was on an extended leave of absence (which was most of the academic year). When she didn't get her job back, Ms. Perich filed a claim with the EEOC, the federal agency charged with investigating and prosecuting cases of unlawful discrimination.
The school fired Ms. Perich because she did not resolve her dispute within the church, as mandated by church doctrine. The EEOC considered this discrimination and retaliation and sued the small church-based school.
The school took the position that it could hire and fire whomever it chose, in accordance with its religious doctrine. In other words, the school based its defense on the 1st Amendment freedom of religion clause.
The EEOC disagreed, contending that Title VII trumped the Constitution. Do you see the problem? I don't really care what religious doctrine was at stake, or what particular denomination was involved. The troubling part of this situation is that the EEOC took the position that regardless of what the Constitution says about the freedom to practice one's religion, it doesn't trump a statute enacted in the 1960s barring discrimination.
In fact, the Obama
Administration took the position that not only did Title VII apply, but that there is no ministerial exception to Title VII. In other words, a religious entity can't rely on its doctrine to defend against a claim of discrimination.
The United States Supreme Court soundly criticized and rejected the EEOC's position. Fortunately, the Court held that that a religious body can make the determination, based on its doctrine, to select leaders or teachers. It was a great victory for religious belief. The government was prevented from telling the church who it had to hire or fire.
I hope that whomever wins the White House that our religious rights are protected better than they have been the past four years. I think that most of us, if not all of us, can agree that merit, rather than ethnicity, age, gender and other similar characteristics should be used to make employment decisions. I hope we also agree that religious bodies have the constitutional right to exercise their religious beliefs as they see fit.