Orthodox Union Asks Supreme Court to Protect Religious Institutions From State Interference
Selection of “Ministers” and Teachers at Issue
Today, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (“Orthodox Union”) – the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization representing nearly 1,000 synagogues nationwide, joined with other major religious denominations in asking the United States Supreme Court to protect religious institutions, such as synagogues and parochial schools, from state interference with their hiring decisions.
The Supreme Court has decided to examine this issue next term in the case of Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and Scoll v. EEOC. The Court will examine whether the “ministerial exception,” which prohibits most employment-related lawsuits against religious organizations by employees performing religious functions, applies to a teacher at a religious elementary school who teaches the full secular curriculum, but also teaches daily religion classes, is a commissioned minister, and regularly leads students in prayer and worship. Courts have generally believed that federal employment discrimination statutes do not apply to church employees performing religious functions. The question is whether this “ministerial exception” applies not simply to religious leaders, but also to teachers at a religious elementary school.
The Orthodox Union is participating in this important case by joining a “friend of the court” brief submitted on behalf of the Union together with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Mormon Church and the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. The court brief was principally drafted by Mr. Kevin Baine of the Williams & Connolly law firm.
In pertinent part the court brief contends that “the right of religious institutions to select their ‘ministers’ extends to all who perform religious functions, and this right is not limited to those who exercise purely or primarily religious duties.” The brief contends that this protection of religious institutions’ autonomy and interference from government oversight is a crucial aspect of the Constitutional freedom of religion and based upon centuries of case precedent as well.
Nathan Diament, the Orthodox Union’s director of public policy, issued the following statement in connection with the filing with the court:
In this case, the Supreme Court will be examining the “ministerial exception” for the first time ever. This is a crucial issue for the liberty and autonomy of religious institutions – including synagogues and parochial schools – in the United States.
Religious institutions must be able to determine and abide by their religious principles and be able to select who will lead and teach their members without second guessing or interference by secular courts.
We are confident the Supreme Court will uphold the longstanding recognition of the “ministerial exception” and appropriately apply it in the case at bar and in all appropriate cases.”
To see the brief that was submitted on behalf of the OU together with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Mormon Church and the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church: Click Here