The Supreme Court made a big ruling yesterday regarding religious freedom. The case of Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC may go a long way in protecting the religious freedom of churches and para-church groups to choose their own ministers. From a Christianity Today article on the ruling:
"The First Amendment provides, in part, that 'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,'" Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the unanimous opinion. "We have said that these two Clauses 'often exert conflicting pressures,' and that there can be 'internal tension … between the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause.' Not so here. Both Religion Clauses bar the government from interfering with the decision of a religious group to fire one of its ministers."
The court was unequivocal: "We agree that there is such a ministerial exception," Roberts wrote. "Requiring a church to accept or retain an unwanted minister, or punishing a church for failing to do so, intrudes upon more than a mere employment decision. Such action interferes with the internal governance of the church, depriving the church of control over the selection of those who will personify its beliefs."
Imposing unwanted ministers and telling religious organizations who they can hire and fire violates both religion clauses of the First Amendment, the court said. It violates the free exercise of religion because a religious group has the "group's right to shape its own faith and mission through its appointments." And it violates the establishment clause because it gives "the state the power to determine which individuals will minister to the faithful."
"It is not just a spectacular win on multiple issues and with multiple (indeed, all) justices on board, but it is the Court's sweeping language that is so very important," said Carl Esbeck, a law professor at the University of Missouri. "The words in the various justices' opinions ring out like a Liberty Bell for religious freedom. Already I can envision scores of legal briefs being churned out in the future mining the Court's passages reaffirming religious freedom as the First Freedom of the Republic. Of cardinal importance: the Supreme Court relied on the Establishment Clause as well as the Free Exercise Clause as a fountainhead of religious freedom—a contended point until now."
The case may have wide ranging religious freedom implications. I will be interesting to see how things start to play out in the future. I highly commend reading the full Christianity Today article.