Byline: THE WASHINGTON TIMES
President Obama's Justice Department is attacking freedom of religion. Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of Hosanna-Tabor Church and School v. EEOC. Cheryl Perich taught elementary school and led chapel devotions at a small Lutheran school near Detroit but was replaced by a substitute after falling ill. She later sought to return to teaching but the church was concerned that she wouldn't be able to fulfill her duties. Negotiations turned sour; Ms. Perich threatened to sue and the church congregation voted to withdraw her call to the ministry, which made her ineligible for the job. She then charged discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The gist of the case is the definition of the ministerial exemption. This is a customary practice recognized by lower courts that exempts churches from many provisions of employment laws. The purpose of the exemption is to keep the government out of church employment decisions, since federal intrusion into that arena would have a fatal impact on First Amendment guarantees of free exercise of religion. In previous cases, arguments over the exemption centered on how religious an employee's duties were; for example, the exemption would apply to a priest but not the church's janitor. However, in the Hosanna-Tabor case, the Justice Department argued for tossing out the exemption altogether and bringing the full weight of federal employment and anti-discrimination law to bear on religious institutions.
The negative consequences of such a radical policy change are easy to imagine. Courts and policymakers would face a rash of cases requiring them to makes rulings balancing religious doctrine with secular law. Federal judges, not religious officials or parishioners, would have the final say over hiring and firing decisions in every religious institution. The Supreme Court has already held in the 1987 case Bishop v. …