This week, the Supreme Court decided a closely watched Case, Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Cheryl Perich was a teacher at a Christian school. She sued the school after her termination, claiming the discharge violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. The school countered that the Courts had no right to interfere with how they decided their personnel matters, given the separation of church and state.
Courts have refused to get involved in disputes over the firing of a church’s pastor, invoking the “ministerial exception,” adopted by the Supreme Court in this decision. The gray areas involving other employees of religious institutions led to subtle rules. The Supreme Court sweeps a lot of that away with this decision. The teacher in this case was “called” to her faith, and counted as a religious minister, though her religious duties at this school were minor. She had a special diploma and commissioned by her congregation’s vote. Other teachers who were not “called” performed the same functions, but because of ther status as a commissioned minister, the Court said it would not decide whether her termination violated federal law. It therefore refused to consider the school’s argument that she was fired for violating church policy of resolving disputes internally, and not through courts. The Supreme Court stopped short of requiring a reason for the firing; it says that federal courts are constitutionally forbidden from questioning such terminations.