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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Who Would Jesus Fire?

I will accept the argument that religious groups have a right to "discriminate" against job applicants whose lifestyles or religious beliefs go against those of the prospective employer.  Thus, while I in no way agree with the Catholic or fundamentalist evangelical church's intolerance toward homosexuality (nor, to be clear, do I consider homosexuality a "lifestyle choice"), I support the church's right not to hire an openly gay man as a minister.  For that matter, I will even--grudgingly--support these organization's rights to practice such discrimination against such applicants even when they are applying for non-ministerial jobs.  A Catholic university, for example, is within its rights if it chooses not to hire an outspoken advocate of abortion rights for a professorship.  (I think the university might be on shakier ground if it fired someone for expressing such views, but even then, I could accept the argument.)

The Supreme Court, however, has gone too far in its decision in Hosanna-Tabor Church v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  The plaintiff in this case, Cheryl Perich, was fired when she pursued a disability discrimination lawsuit against her employer.  To be specific, the church did not fire her because of her disability (narcoloepsy), but because she pursued litigation instead of attempting to resolve the issue within the church.  The Supreme Court found in favor of the Church, stating that, in the opinion of Chief Justice John Roberts,
“The interest of society in the enforcement of employment discrimination statutes is undoubtedly important. But so, too, is the interest of religious groups in choosing who will preach their beliefs, teach their faith and carry out their mission.”
The Court's reasoning was based primarily on the idea of "ministry"; in other words, the plaintiff was not entitled to legal protection because she was hired to perform "ministerial" duties.  This conclusion itself is debatable, as Perich's job mainly consisted of secular teaching duties.  At any rate, however, Perich's duties are beside the point.  As far as I can tell, this teacher was fired because she felt discriminated against because of a medical disability (which would be a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act) and then had the effrontery to pursue her legal rights in court.  I fail to see how allowing her the standing to sue her employer, which in this case happens to be a church, somehow infringes upon the church's freedoms.  Certainly, as I mentioned above, the church had the right to fire Perich if she had engaged in activities that went against church doctrine, but I don't think suffering from narcolepsy qualifies.  People who are "called" to ministry may expect a requirement to conform to church law on doctrinal matters, but they do not therefore surrender all their worldly legal rights.

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