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Supreme Court Sides in Favor of Religious Organizations

Today the Supreme Court decided what is likely the most important religious liberty case to come down in the past two decades.

In Hosanna-Tabor Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Court sided unanimously with a church sued for firing an employee on religious grounds, issuing an opinion on Wednesday that religious employers can keep the government out of hiring and firing decisions. [For additional details on the background and facts of the case, see the Liberty articles "An Issue of Church Autonomy: The Supreme Court Examines the Ministerial Exception Doctrine," (Sept/Oct) and "Hosanna Tabor: The Supreme Court Hears Arguments in a Case with Far-Reaching Implications for Church Organizations" (Nov/Dec).]

The Court's opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, dismissed as an "extreme position" the plea of EEOC to limit any "ministerial exception" solely to workers who perform "exclusively religious functions."

Justice Thomas went even further in his concurring opinion, saying that it was clear that the parochial school's sponsoring church "sincerely" considered the teacher to be a minister, and "That would be sufficient for me to conclude that [this] suit is properly barred by the ministerial exception."

The General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists joined an amicus brief urging the court to rule on behalf of the Lutheran Church.

Said Todd McFarland, associate counsel with the Office of General Counsel and NARLA's legal advisor: "The General Conference is pleased with the Court's decision and the reasoning behind it. In particular, the Court's rejection of the Administration's view that the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment did not provide protection to religious organizations is especially heartening.  This ruling reinforces that America's First Freedom remains relevant."