SCOTUS derails women’s ordination…

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As expected, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a church school  cannot be sued in court over an employee’s  discrimination complaint.

In a unanimous decision SCOTUS overturned the earlier ruling by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals  in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission et al which had allowed the lawsuit to move  forward, saying the teacher’s work was more secular than religious.

The high court disagreed.

Consistent with precedent, SCOTUS ruled that the First Amendment’s  guarantee of freedom of religion shields churches and their operations from the  reach of anti-discrimination laws when dealing with employees of religious  institutions.  SCOTUS also extended this precedent to include complaints of discrimination under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Writing for the Court, Chief Justice John Roberts noted:

The purpose of the exception is not to safeguard a church’s decision to fire a minister only when it is made for a religious reason. The exception instead ensures that the authority to select and control who will minister to the faithful is the church’s alone….(c) Today the Court holds only that the ministerial exception barsan employment discrimination suit brought on behalf of a minister, challenging her church’s decision to fire her. The Court expresses no view on whether the exception bars other types of suits.

The Court’s decision is a clear defeat for those in the U.S. Catholic Church advocating women’s ordination.  While the Catholic Church discriminates in favor of males for theological reasons, civil suits based upon gender discrimination cannot be brought.  “[The] authority to select and control who will minister to the faithful is the church’s alone” [italics added].


To read the SCOTUS decision in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission et al, click on the following link:


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  1. Although the majority opinion would certainly protect the Church from attempts to litigate female ordination into existence, it tailors a ministerial exception that is far too narrow to provide protection for religious bodies and organizations in their essential missions and functions.

    In contrast, Justice Alito’s outstanding concurrence (joined by, of all people, Justice Kagan) gets to the heart of what should actually be protected by the Free Exercise Clause and it’s ministerial corollary:

    … The First Amendment protects the freedom of religious groups to engage in certain key religious activities, including the conducting of worship services and other religious ceremonies and rituals, as well as the critical process of communicating the faith. Accordingly, religious groups must be free to choose the personnel who are essential to the performance of these functions.

    “The “ministerial” exception should be tailored to this purpose. It should apply to any “employee” who leads a religious organization, conducts worship services or important religious ceremonies or rituals, or serves as a messenger or teacher of its faith. If a religious group believes that the ability of such an employee to perform these key functions has been compromised, then the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom protects the group’s right to remove the employee from his or her position…”

    (emphasis added)

  2. Way to go, ” Supremes” nine dancing to the same First Amendment principle. Now on to marriage, and life at all stages and reducing the influence of lobbyists and donations to subvert the Republic’s elections and Banks bailed out when they lose at gambling and the vulnerable have to pay up. OR is that GOD’S work throgh HIS CHURCH? Conversion is the order of the day..

  3. From my reading, the majority opinion didn’t craft any limitations to the ministerial exception … in fact, CJ Roberts writes:

    We are reluctant … to adopt a rigid formula for deciding when an employee qualifies as a minister. It is enough for us to conclude, in this our first case involving the ministerial exception, that the exception covers Perich, given all the circumstances of her employment. … We express no view on whether the exception bars other types of suits, including actions by employees alleging breach of contract or tortious conduct by their religious employers. There will be time enough to address the applicability of the exception to other circumstances if and when they arise.

    In sum, the majority opinion is much like a man who looks at a postmodern painting or sculpture and says, “Y’know, I couldn’t give you a working definition of ‘art’, but I know what it looks like and this ain’t it!” It also appears that J Thomas had a similar concern to Alito and Kagan’s about how Hosanna-Tabor uses “minister”: “The question whether an employee is a minister is itself religious in nature, and the answer will vary widely. Judicial attempts to fashion a civil definition of ‘minister’ through a bright-line test or multi-factor analysis risk disadvantaging those religious groups whose beliefs, practices, and membership are outside of the “mainstream” or unpalatable to some.”

    All in all, though, it’s still a significant victory. We should also note that Hosanna prevents forcing churches to ordain practicing homosexuals … which should throw a spanner in the current Administration’s works.

  4. I hope you’re right, Anthony. But, like Justices Thomas, Alito, and Kagan, I wish the majority opinion hadn’t focused so much on the “ordination” aspect of this case. As I read the opinion, it raised concerns for me that lower courts applying the ruling could distinguish this case from cases where “ordination” wasn’t involved.

    I was, therefore, very glad to see that the concurrences addressed this concern head on. I hope the concurrences are reflective of where the majority of the Justices will be if (or when) future cases involving employees not so “ordained” arise.

  5. Yeah, I hear you, Jay. To be clear, I wasn’t contradicting you; it’s very possible a future Court could see Roberts’ focus and deciding he was imposing a “bright-line” standard. So having those concurring opinions may help provide too narrow an interpretation. Maybe.

  6. You know who appoionted the lone dissenter to this opinion…..Yep, Barrack Obama….appointed Sonia Sotomayor…the judge who wrote the opinion stating the church was wrong. Thank God she was the only one,Thats the reason he MUST be defeated so he wont appoint any more judges !!!!

  7. The opinion was unanimous, Mr Obama’s other female apointee Justice Kagan joined with Justice Alito in raising the future related question. The issue to watch is reversing Roe v Wade which the public has by now understood and seen through the earlier “three month” position which was never there, and the “glob of tissue” and the side-tracked “personhood” red herring distraction.

  8. I must confess to being a little surprised at the signs of relief expressed by some writers and commentators over this decision. Let’s cut to the chase: who imagines that a mere supreme court of the USA can overturn the doctrines of the Catholic Church? Such a ruling would be laughable null.

    We are relieved that the court didn’t interfere? What are we all thinking?

    In one way, it is too bad that the court decided the way it did for if it had voted the other way the battle lines would, at last, have been drawn clearly in the sand. True, any number of cowardly Bishops, priests and Cardinals would have folded and complied; but wouldn’t a number of others have risen up in righteous anger at this tyranny? And possibly, just possibly, wouldn’t Rome have finally awakened from its lethargy and started acting like Rome again? Something to think about.

    No mere court of the USA, no matter how “supreme” it may be, has the slightest right to interfere with the one true Church of Christ. But if it did try to do so, and things got ugly (which they undoubtedly would), perhaps that would be the beginning of the end for these monsters who are trying to shove perversion and murder and never-ending war down our throats. It might, just might, awaken the sleeping giant if they had tried to force the Church into “ordaining” women.

    Rejoice and feel “relieved” if you want to. Cower in fear over the supreme court if that is your style. But let us all be thinking in terms of growing a backbone and in praying that Rome grows one, too. And soon.

  9. Sad to read that last comment. The “Supremes” have already discounted God’s Natural Law about LIFE in the womb, decied that adult sexual activity between consenters, M with m and F with F is legal. How far away is it for the Court to throw out the Natural Law on marriage as equal to same-gender unions. The dominant culture is already acting and deidiing that way, not that the public does but neither did the public cry for Roe v Wade in 1973 either. Comments about the Vatican and bishops are unworthy here, As an institution the Church from papacy to local Church/diocese is the only consistent bulwark against the rush to secularise the entire culture. China decided to split from the Vatican and ordain its own bishops and clergy and imprison those loyal to the Bishop of Rome. Have you protested that or asked your POTUS to press them for legitimate human rights?

  10. I’m glad about this decision. However, most of the people that I know who work at Catholic institutions aren’t in total agreement with the Church. At best, they sign a declaration saying they agree with the Church on a list of teachings, but then turn around and go home and do what they want anyway. It’s good to know that the government won’t interfere with the Church, but when is the Church herself going to enforce her teachings??? (Yes, it happens in some places, but those numbers are small.)

  11. The human tendency we have is to compare the Church’s authority and its penalties to the State. The State can slap us in jail, fine us or in many USA States execute. The Church’s Courts are to apply justice and love in Jesus’ Name and Gospel. Even excommunication,as rooted in Paul’s teaching is remedial, not punitive, it was to get the offendingone to reflect. Therefore the bishop’s hands are tied in many ways for dissenting clergy and laity including those in publlc elected or appointed offices. The Protestants of Swiss Calvinism’s Geneva used to around punishing sinners! There is a judgment call to be made, what is pastorally the best rather than throw them all out and move on. It is a time for great discernment, prudence and patience. Above all, prayer for all involved, including bishops in their special role as “episcopoi,” overseers!

  12. This quote, “The exception instead ensures that the authority to select and control who will minister to the faithful is the church’s alone…” If this ruling gives the church the authority to choose “who” based on church teachings and it does, then the church can choose “who” ministers to the faithful employees of the church. A “who” can be an individual or an entity. Ministering is the action to provide life guidance to the faithful. Choosing healthcare is a life decision and comes under the life guidance to the faithful. The “who” who provides healthcare insurance should be based on church teaching. The faithful within the congregation can be employees too. So I would argue this ruling can be used to fight the current healthcare mandates.

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