Everson v. Board of Education is considered a landmark of First Amendment jurisprudence. That 1947 case marks the first time the Supreme Court held that the disestablishment provision of the First Amendment is binding on the states, and not just on the federal government. The “incorporation” of the principle of disestablishment thus completed the task begun seven years earlier in Cantwell v. Connecticut, when a unanimous Court held that free exercise applied to the states. In Cantwell, the Court overturned the convictions of three Jehovah’s Witnesses, who had been arrested for unlicensed soliciting and a breach of peace.
Posts Tagged ‘Supreme Court of the United States’
There is much that could be said about the history of the Catholic Church and its dedication to the defense of religious freedom. What interests me about the formation of a new Ad Hoc Committee on religious freedom at this time is the company that the bishops are keeping today—and why the bishops’ bellicose language accusing the Obama administration of mounting a war on religious liberty seems to make sense to such a disparate and varied group. Beyond the obvious self-interest, there is a genuine urgency to the bishops’ appeal, one that is legible to a surprising number of Americans.
Michel Foucault famously describes Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon as a “cruel, ingenious cage” to be understood not as a “dream building … [but as] the diagram of a mechanism of power reduced to its ideal form … a figure of political technology.” For Foucault, panopticism is “the general principle of a new ‘political anatomy’ whose object and end are not relations of sovereignty but the relations of discipline: [t]he celebrated, transparent circular cage, with its high towers powerful and knowing.” In reading the Supreme Court’s decision in Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC recognizing a “ministerial exception” to antidiscrimination law—a case hailed almost immediately as a victory for religious freedom—it is for me the specter of the Panopticon that haunts every page.
In Religion Dispatches, Katherine Stewart asks what the Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. E.E.O.C. decision can tell us about how religion is viewed by the courts and, more broadly, by the government.
The last sentence of the Court’s opinion in Hosanna-Tabor announces the dogma that binds the majority opinion. Affirming for the first time the constitutional status of the ministerial exception, the Chief Justice declares that “(t)he church must be free to choose those who will guide it on its way.” Not “persons” must be free to choose their own ministers, but “the church” must be free. What is “the church?”
Secular law lost unanimously in the Supreme Court of the United States last week. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal antidiscrimination statute that bars discrimination against employees on the basis of a disability. The ADA also contains an antiretaliation provision that prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who file charges under the statute. The statute itself does not exempt religious employers from liability. Nonetheless, the Court dismissed schoolteacher Cheryl Perich’s ADA retaliation lawsuit against Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School on the grounds that Perich was a minister.
Earlier today, the Supreme Court released its decision in Hosanna-Tabor v. E.E.O.C., a case that brought into question the validity and boundaries of the “ministerial exception,” a legal doctrine that exempts religious organizations from the anti-discrimination standards of US employment law.
One recurring justification for the ministerial exception has been the “problem” of women priests. The specter of the Roman Catholic Church being forced to ordain women priests has repeatedly haunted discussions of the ministerial exception. Catholic women priests are wrongly used as a justification for the exception. It was unfortunate that the women priests issue became part of the oral argument in Hosanna-Tabor, as it distracts attention from the more important issues at stake in the exception.
Where does the line lie between constitutional protection of religious exceptionalism and the need to enforce state laws ensuring fair treatment of employees?
Last week, in the first week of its October 2011 term, the U.S. Supreme Court heard argument in a suit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charging the local branch of the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church with illegal retaliatory firing of a Michigan parochial schoolteacher under the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA mandates an end to discrimination against persons with disabilities across a wide range of contexts and is considered a high-water mark of American civil rights legislation. The Church, supported by a wide array of other interested religious organizations, claims immunity from such legislation.