Churches Cannot Violate Civil Rights Laws for Reasons Unrelated to Religious Doctrine
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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union filed a friend-of-the-court brief today in a Supreme Court case arguing that churches do not have the right to discriminate based on non-religious grounds. The case was originally filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of a teacher of primarily secular subjects who claims she was fired by a religious school after taking a leave of absence to treat her narcolepsy.
“While faith communities surely have the right to set religious doctrine and decide which ministers best advance their beliefs and practices, they don’t have a free pass to discriminate in any and all cases,” said Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. “This teacher – who argues that she was fired because of her disability, and not for any doctrinal reason – should have her day in court.”
Religious institutions are given some leeway in hiring practices in order to express and practice their faith. For example, a Catholic church cannot be sued for refusing to ordain a woman as a priest and an Orthodox Jewish congregation need not hire a female rabbi if doing so would violate their religious tenets. However, this ministerial exception should not apply to discriminatory decisions that have nothing to do with religious doctrine.
The ACLU filed its friend-of-the-court brief together with the ACLU of Michigan, Americans United For Separation of Church and State, the National Council of Jewish Women, the Unitarian Universalist Association and the Sikh Council on Religion and Education.
The case, Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, is slated to be argued Oct. 5.
The brief can be seen at: www.aclu.org/religion-belief/hosanna-tabor-v-eeoc-amicus-brief