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Churches Win Constitutional Victory

Written By: Attorney Jonathan Emord  |  Posted: Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

            On January 11, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the government may not second guess the decision of a church to hire and fire ministers, even if the church's decision would otherwise be actionable under federal law (including under the Americans with Disabilities Act). Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church v. EEOC is a magnificent (and essential) victory for the First Amendment Religion Clauses.

            The establishment and free exercise clauses of the First Amendment were intended to prevent the state from supplanting religious decision-making with state orthodoxies. In Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Lutheran Church called Cheryl Perich to the position of commissioned minister. After serving the Church in a teaching capacity that involved secular and religious instruction, Perich developed narcolepsy and went on disability leave. Following that leave, she contacted the church and requested to return to her teaching duties. She was informed that the Lutheran school already contracted with a lay teacher to fill her position for the remainder of the school year. The congregation offered to pay a portion of Perich's health insurance premiums on the condition that she resign as a called teacher. Perich refused to resign, arrived at the school to occupy her teaching post but was rebuffed in that attempt, and received word from the school that she would likely be fired. The congregation then voted to rescind Perich's call and sent her a letter of termination. Perich filed suit with the EEOC under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Obama Administration's EEOC decided to break new ground and second guess the judgment of the Lutheran Church, hoping to force the church to abide by the discrimination laws.

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