Sunday, March 20, 2016

Gov Intervention: Stopping Churches From Practicing Employment Discrimination

February 16th, 2016 a Missouri court rejected the primary claim of a fired ministry worker, Colleen Simon.  Upon being fired, Simon filed a lawsuit against the diocese on the grounds that the administration ended her employment due to her same-sex marriage.  Simon, a former Kansas City church worker, was employed by the St. Francis Xavier Church as a coordinator f
or the food pantry. 

In the lawsuit, Simon declared that her supervisors at the church knew she was in a same-sex marriage and that it wasn’t an issue.  However, two weeks after the Kansas City Star wrote an article in April 2014 about her marriage to Rev. Donna Simon of St. Mark Hope and Peace Lutheran Church in Kansas City Simon was fired.

In court, the Jackson County Judge wouldn’t consider Simon’s accusations of the priest’s supposed knowledge of her sexual orientation and ultimately her status as an employee because it “would impermissibly entangle the court in matters and deacons purely canonical.” Indeed, the legal representatives of the church believed this to be the most important part of the lawsuit.  To allow for government intervention in church affairs would be to negate “the very line the First Amendment says the government cannot cross.”  Moreover, the church fought extensively as to not let Simon’s case go to court in the first place for this very reason. 

Personally, I don’t think the issue is wether the church had a right to fire Ms. Simon.  It could be argued that she worked for the ministry, regardless of the role she played, any job under the ministry is a representation of the church’s values.  However, this argument is clearly an issue within the church and only the church.    

To that end, the most important and fundamental part of the entire lawsuit is that under the Free Exercise Clause the church has a right to strongly oppose government involvement in their decisions whether it be on employment or other religious matters.  As stated, this is a direct and “excessive” entanglement of government in religious affairs. It is up to the church to freely exercise its beliefs and if they feel Simon, as an employee, goes against such beliefs then the administration has the power to make their own decisions on employment. The court did recognize this and affirmed the First Amendment by allowing the diocese to appropriately, under catholic teaching, decide employment status based on their own principles. 

Thus, this case is fundamental in drawing the lawn as to where job discrimination against an individual based on their sexuality can be drawn and when it is permissible to have the government intervene in such a matter.  As stated, I believe that in this particular case government intervention would be completely inappropriate when drawing upon the first amendment of the Constitution. 


Rosalie said...

I would disagree with your argument that the government should not involve itself with this case because it would be excessive entanglement. If one were to extend this argument to other cases, the courts would theoretically have no right to decide on any cases involving churches and other religious institutions - which they have done in the past with Everson, Epperson v. Arkansas, Bob Jones v. United States, and many others. We know that because of tax exemptions, compelling state interest, and the value of basic human rights it is important for the courts to make judgments about religious institutions. The courts have ruled similarly in other such cases such as the Milton Catholic school case which we read on the very first day of class. In that case, the judge ruled that because the employee in question was qualified and only lost his job because of his sexual orientation, it was discrimination. This also reminded me of the Bob Jones University v. United States because there was a compelling state interest to hinder racism, so there should be a compelling state interest to hinder discrimination. While we often think of racism and homophobia as separate, the two are similar because it is both discrimination based on the very essence of who someone is rather than what they do. Furthermore, both groups have been systematically discriminated against in the United States. Therefore, it is within the government's right to legislate their demise in hopes of ending these predjudices.

Sedona Boyatzis said...

I agree with Rosalie's comments on this case. I think homophobia is a widely occurring mindset in this country, and despite the increased acceptance seen by the legalization of gay marriage this past summer as well as the general progression of time, it obviously remains an issue. Simon's sexual orientation has nothing to do with her ability to perform her tasks set forth for her as the coordinator of St. Francis Xavier Church's food pantry. We have discussed this with recent cases that have been deemed by the supreme court to be discriminatory on the basis of infringing upon the church's religious beliefs and practices. It is obvious with this case and with past cases we have read about that the church does have a right to mandate its employees, but not on the basis of their employees' sexuality, race, or anything that does not influence their duties.

Caroline S. said...

I have to disagree with the above comments because I believe it is important to examine the anti-discrimination laws in place before we pass any judgement on the case. I think that the Milton Case that Rosalie mentioned is distinctly different from the present case due to the current anti-discrimination laws in place in Massachusetts: In 1989, Massachusetts became the second state in the country to pass a comprehensive anti-discrimination law prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination in the areas of employment, housing, public accommodations, credit and services. However, Missouri does not have the same laws: the state only provides protection against discrimination in housing, employment, and places of public accommodations based on race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex, disability, age (in employment only), and familial status. Thus, while the Church's decision might not be very politically correct and may be based in homophobia- the Church has not broken the State's discrimination law and thus is not breaking the same laws as the Milton Catholic school, Bob Jones University. Everson v. Board of Education of the Township of Ewing and Epperson v. Arkansas are Establishment Clauses and thus do not follow the same line of reasoning as Free Exercise Cases. The Establishment of Catholicism is not in question, but the Free Exercise rights of this Church are. It seems that despite how distasteful Ms. Simon's dismissal might have been, the Church does not appear to have violated any existing State legislation. Until the state of Missouri changes its legislation to protect sexual orientation under anti-discrimination laws I believe that the Church had every legal right to dismiss Ms. Simon based upon her sexual orientation.

Thomas M. said...

I would have to agree with Kaily on this issue, as I believe that the court did not have authority in this arena. The Church is allowed to have employees follow the guidelines of the religion, but I do think that the anti-discrimination laws would protect against firing due to sexual orientation. What separates this case is that I do not believe that there is enough overwhelming evidence that the firing was due to the employee's sexual orientation. From my understanding, the employers did not make a statement that the firing was due to Ms. Simon being in a same sex marriage. There obviously could have been a connection between the newspaper article and the firing, it may have even been likely, but I do not think that the evidence is overwhelming enough.