On Wednesday, Christianity Today posted an article about the recent Supreme Court decision regarding the firing of a school teacher in a Lutheran School. The court ruled that the teacher was a ‘minister’ and could not sue the church after she was fired in 2005.
The article reports:
“The First Amendment provides, in part, that ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,'” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the unanimous opinion. “We have said that these two Clauses ‘often exert conflicting pressures,’ and that there can be ‘internal tension … between the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause.’ Not so here. Both Religion Clauses bar the government from interfering with the decision of a religious group to fire one of its ministers.”
This is an important ruling. The article points out how this ruling may impact some recent decisions regarding religious groups on college campuses:
If the government can’t tell a church or religious group to accept or reject a minister, he asks, “How then it can be constitutional for a public university to tell religious student groups what criteria they can and cannot use in selecting their leaders? Does this decision have a penumbra that strengthens the freedom of religious organizations more broadly? That remains to be seen–yet the language and the unanimity of the decision are encouraging.”
Kim Colby, senior counsel for the Christian Legal Society’s Center for Law and Religious Freedom, was similarly encouraged. “This decision should help religious groups that are being charged with ‘religious discrimination’ when they require their leaders to agree with their statement of faith,” she said. “In a conflict between nondiscrimination laws and religious liberty, religious liberty prevailed. Nondiscrimination laws serve vital and good purposes in our society. But they have been increasingly misused to harm religious liberty in a number of contexts over the past decade.”
The CLS lost a Supreme Court battle last year when the justices ruled 5-4 that a California law school can bar groups that require leaders to sign a statement of faith.
The battle for freedom to allow religious groups to be religious is just beginning. If I started a bridge club, I would want the people joining to be interested in playing or learning to play bridge. It makes no sense to allow someone to join a bridge club if they are only interested in playing hearts or poker (or even volleyball). That is not discrimination–it is common sense. Sometimes you have to discriminate–not because you are being unfair, but because you are protecting a common interest. A bridge club that plays hearts or poker (or volleyball) really does not make a lot of sense.