A couple days ago, in the case of Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission et al., the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous decision that a teacher fired by a religious school could not sue her former employer for workplace discrimination because of the Constitution’s protection for religious freedom. Although Cheryl Perich taught mostly secular subjects at her Michigan school, but she also taught some classes in religion and had received some religious training. This, in the eyes of the Court, justified a “ministerial exception” to government oversight of employment on the grounds that religious groups should be free from intervention by the state.
In an editorial, the New York Times has criticized the ruling for having an excessively encompassing conception of the ministerial exception and suggested that “it’s [the Court’s] sweeping deference to Churches does not serve them or society wisely.” I’m inclined to agree with the Court on this one and to disagree with the Times. The Americans with Disabilities Act, the anti-discrimination law that provided the grounds for Ms. Perich to sue when she sought to return to work after a period of sickness, was itself fairly sweeping in its extension of federal authority. The ministerial exception at least establishes some limits to that authority by excluding religious organizations and religious activities from federal interference.
The Moral Liberal Sociology Editor, Carl L. Bankston III is Professor of Sociology at Tulane University in New Orleans, LA. He is the author and co-author of a number of books and numerous articles published in academic journals. An incomplete list of his books includes: Growing Up American: How Vietnamese Children Adapt to Life in the United States (with Min Zhou, 1998), Blue Collar Bayou: Louisiana Cajuns in the New Economy of Ethnicity (with Jacques Henry, 2002), and A Troubled Dream: The Promise and Failure of School Desegregation in Louisiana (2002), Forced to Fail: The Paradox of School Desegregation (hardback, 2005; paperback, 2007), and Public Education – America’s Civil Religion: A Social History (2009) (all with Stephen J. Caldas). View Professor Bankston’s full bio, here. He blogs at Can These Bones Live?
Copyright © 2011 Carl L. Bankston III.