Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Narcoleptic Wakes Up Supreme Court



On October 5, 2011 the Supreme Court will face one of the most important religious liberties cases it has seen in over decades. Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (No. 10-553) addresses the ministerial exception and a religious institutions ability to discriminate against employees. The exception allows organizations to discriminate against ministerial personnel who violate their ideologies. In this case a teacher, Cheryl Perich, was fired after she returned from sick leave for narcolepsy. Even though Ms. Perich claimed to be fully recovered and her condition brought under control with medication, church officials requested she resign. She repeatedly refused and threatened the school with legal action. The church’s teachings state that disputes should be handled internally and not through the legal system. This insubordination led to her dismissal from the school. What the Court is examining is whether or not Ms. Perich’s responsibility were sacred or secular and if she should be included under the exemption.

What is under dispute specifically in the case may appear menial but its effects on the ministerial exemption and liberties of thousand of church employees can be massive. Hosana-Tabor v. EEOC does not serve as the clearest example for the violation of religious liberties, but it serves as an example of discrimination to occur within the workplace. A clearer example of this is would be what if a biology teacher at a religious school admitted to believing in evolution or a janitor in charge of cleaning the sanctuary came out as being homosexual. This ruling could give the church immunity against federal intervention on antidiscrimination laws. According to the Chronicle,

It would leave hundreds of thousands of teachers without the protection from discrimination and retaliation that Congress intended to afford them. They would be "unprotected against retaliatory dismissals" for activities such as reporting health violations or sexual abuse, or fighting for better pay. Nothing in the right of free association—or, indeed, in any right under the Religion Clauses—grants religious organizations such a sweeping exemption from neutral and generally applicable antidiscrimination laws.

I am very interested in seeing the outcome of the courts decision. In my opinion the church was not out of line for firing their employee after she threatened officials with legal action. There are reasons why institutions have policies such as Hosana-Tabor’s dispute process. Legal action brings about negative press to the church, which is why it prefers to deal with matters in house. Ms. Perich clearly violated this rule and her employment was appropriately terminated. What I fear is the free exercise of the church may expand too far. Should religious institutions be able to discriminate against whomever they want undermining the protections offered to employees by a wide variety of federal laws? Should have Reynolds been given the right to multiple wives?

9 comments:

Harry R. said...

I do not agree with Jon in this case. The religious school's policy of resolving disputes internally as opposed to legally seems to be nothing more than an attempt to restrict potential lawsuits from being pressed against them. There seems to be no religious reasoning against lawsuits other than that the school would prefer to be the ultimate authority as opposed to our legal system. I also feel that a dangerous precedent would be set were this case decided in favor of the school, although I do not feel that the primary issue discussed here will set a definitive precedent.

Jack Ness said...

I concur with Jon's opinion here. If the church had a reason to fire their teacher that was against school policy, whether for religious reasons or not, they should have the right to do it. I don't feel that this is discrimination, because the woman had already been hired. They gave her a shot, and she did not stick to their policy, which she had to have known about previously. In general, I feel that a religious institution, actually any institution or business, should be able to fire any of their employees if they violated a rule set up by that organization.

Kathryn M. said...

This is a challenging case because churches should be permitted to fire employees if they have not performed their duties as notarized in legal contracts. If Ms. Perich is removed from her position, this may create the precedent that churches cannot discriminate against employees based on a church’s general convictions. For instance, within the Roman Catholic faith, women cannot be ordained to the priesthood. According to http://archive.catholic.com/thisrock/2002/0201sbs.asp, a website which discusses Catholic dogma, even the Pope does not have the authority to “confer the sacrament [priesthood] on those who are unable to represent the male Jesus.” Would the court then have to judge what are construed as genuine religious beliefs for minority religious groups? Where will the line be drawn then if Renyolds v. US did not permit plural marriage for Mormons?

TNTbo said...

My initial reaction is that the Church should not be exempt from discrimination laws, they should be held to the same standards as a publicly funded institution. But they are not publicly funded. I feel that when one takes a job at a church they should be aware of the circumstances, and have a full understanding of the risks of being an employee there. I don't think the church handled the situation fairly, but in a legal sense, I do not see a problem with what they did.

Molly Veelguski said...

I agree with Jon's opinion. I see no wrong in their choice to fire Perich. If there is a strict policy that was set in stone and understood by the employ day 1 of the job, then there is no discrimination. She signed onto the job knowing these circumstances and unfortunately the church believed she violated the policy. I agree with Jack with his statement regarding that any private institution or business has the right to terminate employment based on the organization's understood policy. I do not believe Perich will win this case based on that reasoning.

Justin E said...

Perhaps I am reading this article wrong but I fail to see any discrimination against religion in this case. My verdict is that private religious schools should have the right to fire someone without facing legal action if this person has broken school policy.

Marissa V said...

I also do not see religious discrimination in this case. The private institution of the church is allowed to fire employees based on the church's policy. Whether she violated it or not, it is up to the discretion of the church. Unlike public entities, the church is allowed to fire or hire solely on its own.

Harry R. said...

I am terrified of a precedent being set which could allow religious organizations to exist outside of the legal system based solely on the claim of a religious belief. Believing that legal cases should not be brought against someone has no bearing in our nation, for if this were the case, someone could religiously believe that they do not have to pay money for anything. Such beliefs which attempt to circumvent our national practices do not deserve constitutional protection.

Alvaro said...

This narcolepsy posting, completely useful..