Today, the highest court in the land ruled against a woman who was fired over a disability. While this may sound contrary to the law when it comes to wrongful termination, the difference in this case was the entity doing the discriminatory firing: The Church.
An Evangelical Lutheran Church and School in Michigan, Hosanna-Tabor, fired Cheryl Perich, one of their teachers, after she became ill. She was diagnosed with narcolepsy, a sleep disorder, and was out of work for several months. The Hosanna-Tabor congregation hired a replacement and when Ms. Perich tried to return to work, they told her they thought it best if she resign. Ms. Perich refused, and advised the congregation that if they wouldn’t allow her to work because she had narcolepsy, she’d have to file a claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act. She was then fired, as the church believed conflicts should be resolved within the church, not through legal channels. Since then, the Church seemed to have lost its issue with following legal channels, including appealing when they lost, all the way to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court’s decision is quite remarkable in its scope and breadth. The decision allows religious organizations to terminate the employment of anyone they choose, even if it’s over discriminatory reasons like race, sexual orientation, disabilities, etc. as long as the church deems the employee a minister. Ms. Perich could hardly be called a minister under a layman’s definition. She taught fourth-grade Math, Social Studies and Music. She did teach a religion class four days each week, and lead the children in prayer, but all contracted teachers did as well.
Chief Justice Roberts made what I find to be a very interesting point when he wrote, “The Establishment Clause prevents the government from appointing ministers, and the Free Exercise Clause prevents it from interfering with the freedom of religious groups to select their own.” If this is accurate, that our Constitution prohibits the US Government from appointing ministers, I’d have to ask why the military has Chaplains? These are government employees performing religious functions: leading religious services and providing, or should I say ministering to soldier’s religious needs.
This case strikes me as not only hypocritical, as I just indicated with regards to the government clearly hiring ministers in the military, but also as another example of the special privilege given to religion in this country. I’ve previously written about the man Christopher Hitchens called a half-educated pulpit pounder, Rick Warren, and the special treatment he received from Congress when the IRS sent him a tax bill. Religious organizations ride the gravy train of privilege in the US:
- Churches pay no property taxes.
- Churches pay no taxes on donations, no matter how much they take in.
- Pastors can declare any amount of income as housing expense and it is exempt from taxation.
- Answers in Genesis received a 75% discount on property taxes from a Kentucky city to build a Noah’s Ark theme park there.
And they get lots of support from the government, that isn’t supposed to be involved in religion:
- Congressmen write bills to put In God We Trust on Federal Buildings.
- School boards attempt to teach religion in public schools under various guises like the Intelligent Design idiocy.
- Congressmen write anti-evolution bills, attempting to force educators to lie to children about the Theory of Evolution based on the Congressman’s personal beliefs.
This case is another notch on the bedpost of The Church, who can now freely violate anti-discrimination laws and get away with it. They can choose to fire, or not hire, or not promote someone based on their race, gender, national origin, religion, disability, or age, or as they did in this case, retaliate against an individual for consulting an attorney or the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) because of one of the above issues of discrimination. As long as The Church can call the employee a “minister,” they’re in the clear, with the full backing of the Supreme Court of the United States.