Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Free exercise

In a unanimous decision today the Supreme Court defended religious liberty. For the moment those in government who would decide for us who we must accept as our religious teachers and clergy have been thwarted. A couple of summaries of the significance of the decision:

Richard Garnett:
.... Chief Justice Roberts’s opinion in Hosanna-Tabor Church v. EEOC vindicates clearly and strongly a crucial constitutional principle: The First Amendment protects religious liberty by forbidding governments from second-guessing religious communities’ decisions about who should be their teachers, leaders, and ministers. The chief justice’s opinion for the Court is well-reasoned, welcome, and correct. ....

.... The question for the Court was whether the Constitution’s protections for religious liberty allow secular courts to consider lawsuits brought by “ministers” against religious institutions, organizations, and communities. .... In today’s opinion, the Supreme Court affirmed what the overwhelming majority of lower federal courts and state courts in the United States have already ruled, and rejected the well-outside-the-mainstream view advanced by the Obama administration’s lawyers. This last point is worth emphasizing: The administration’s lawyers had pressed an extreme view — one that no other court, and few scholars and experts, had embraced — and they convinced no one. ....
Ed Whelan:
The opinion thus rejects the remarkably hostile contentions of the Obama administration that there is no general ministerial exception and that religious organizations are limited to the right to freedom of association that labor unions and social clubs enjoy. That latter contention, the Chief explains,
is hard to square with the text of the First Amendment itself, which gives special solicitude to the rights of religious organizations. We cannot accept the remarkable view that the Religion Clauses have nothing to say about a religious organization’s freedom to select its own ministers.
.... In one concurring opinion, Justice Thomas expresses his view that courts should “defer to a religious organization’s good-faith understanding of who qualifies as a minister.” In a second concurrence, Justice Alito, joined by Justice Kagan, calls for the inquiry to “focus on the function performed by persons who work for religious bodies,” rather than on whether a religious organization uses the term “minister” or has a concept of ordination.
At Christianity Today

A Win for Religious Freedom - By Richard Garnett - Bench Memos - National Review Online, Major Victory for Religious Liberty Against Obama Administration Attack - By Ed Whelan - Bench Memos - National Review Online
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