A Unanimous Court Slaps Down the Obama Administration

January 17, 2012

Last week the Supreme Court issued a ruling involving the application of the 1st amendment with regard to a church hiring and firing those it considered ‘ministers’ within the church. The specific case concerned Cheryl Perich who worked as a teacher for a school run by the church. Fearing the school would fire her because of her narcolepsy, she began an effort to bring a claim to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The church had a policy that those who were working as ministers in the church were required to resolve disputes within the church.  Because she was a trained minister in addition to being a teacher and because she brought the claim to the EEOC, Perich was subsequently fired.

The case, Hosanna-Tabor Church v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission arose as a result of the EEOC and the administration pursuing a lawsuit against the church on Ms. Perich’s behalf. As the New York Times put it, the reaction by religious groups to the Obama Administration’s support of the EEOC was as vociferous as one would expect:

Many religious groups were outraged when the Obama administration argued in support of Ms. Perich, saying this was evidence that the administration was hostile to historically protected religious liberties.

Indeed, those lining up on either side of the case read like a who’s who of cultural warriors – it was American Bible Society, the Southern Baptist Convention, the Rutherford Institute and Wallbuilders verses the People for the American Way, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Humanist Association and American Atheists. In many ways this was a strong test case for claim by secularists that the acceptance of their views about church and state are gaining ground. What most expected was the usual split decision with a slim majority falling on either side of the issue and no strong precedent being set. The resulting decision was virtually the opposite of this. In a rare 9-0 decision the Supreme Court dealt a stinging rebuke bot to the Obama administration and to secularists who would like to diminish the power of religious organizations to order their own affairs. It granted, via the clear wording of the 1st amendment a “ministerial exception,” – that the 1st amendment protects the right of religious organizations to hire, retain, and fire its own leaders in accordance with its own doctrines, not in accordance with the employment laws of the US government.

As Justice Alito put it in the decision, “The Constitution leaves it to the collective conscience of each religious group to determine for itself who is qualified to serve as a teacher or messenger of its faith.”

Given the 1st amendment’s clear prohibition against ‘prohibiting the free exercise’ of religion this result would seem obvious but this administration’s propensity for using its regulatory powers to impose it’s agenda on religious organizations and individuals is becoming its hallmark.

It’s good we still have courts to limit that overreach.


Observations

November 6, 2010

 

Part of the reason the Left and the rest of the country keep missing each other on issues like school prayer, whether science classes must be adamantly materialistic, or how our history will be taught in our schools is that the Left sees education in the US as primarily a purview of the state – the classroom is merely an extension of the government, another bureaucracy which must fall under the rules and regulations that govern all Federal and state bureaucracies. Most parents however see the school as an extension of their communities – their kids spend eight hours a day there, they have meetings and activities there, and their local property taxes pay the lion’s share of the upkeep of those schools.

So when a Leftist talks about ‘separation of church and state’ with regard to schools it is as if he is speaking a language most don’t understand – they don’t see the draconian rules which govern schools as separating church and the state, but as separating children from their parents. And that is where the true conflict lies.


Free Exercise and the Welfare State

May 10, 2010

In recent years there has been an increasing antagonism to public displays of religious faith. Whether it concerns the those national symbols which historically refer to our inherited religious beliefs as in the Pledge of Allegiance or the National Anthem, or whether dealing with more explicit religious expressions, as in prayers offered at public events, the opposition to such expressions has grown if not in numbers, certainly in volume.

 In the recent past such conflicts usually occurred as the result of what was perceived to be the direct imposition of religious belief on unwilling participants by the state via  of the Federal or state government agencies. For this reason the Establishment Clause, that portion of the 1st Amendment which is understood to prevent the government from becoming excessively entangled in religious matters, is understood to be violated when publicly funded educational institutions express in any manner religious sentiments via a state agent like a teacher or curriculum.

 More recently, this idea of undue entanglement has begun to grow with the expansion of the welfare state. One recent example, reported by WSBTV in Georgia illustrates the problem:

 On Thursday, the usual open prayer before meals at the center was traded in for a moment of silence.

 The dilemma is being hashed out by the Port Wentworth city attorney, said Mayor Glenn “Pig” Jones.

 Tim Rutherford, Senior Citizens Inc. vice president, said some of his staff recently visited the center and noticed people praying shortly before lunch was served. Rutherford said his company provides meals like baked chicken, steak tips and rice and salads at a cost of about $6 a plate. Seniors taking the meals pay 55 cents and federal money foots the rest of the bill, Rutherford said.

“We can’t scoff at their rules,” he said of federal authorities. “It’s a part of the operational guidelines.”

 Rutherford said the moment of silence was introduced to protect that funding. He said although the change may have been misinterpreted, perhaps his company could have done a better job selling it.

 “It’s interpreted that we’re telling people that they can’t pray, but we aren’t saying that,” he said. “We’re asking them to pray to themselves. Have that moment of silence.”

 That such a thing should happen, whether we believe it to be right or wrong, should come as no surprise because bureaucracies are dumb. By this I don’t mean government workers are unintelligent, but rather that collectively the state acts mindlessly in accordance with the rules and regulations it is given, not in accordance with cultural realities, or traditions, or personal sensitivities. The state is no respecter of individuals, and it’s activities reduce every situation down to the lowest common denominator – in the case of religious liberty, this lowest denominator is always state imposed secularism. And the larger the state gets, the more it imposes on every aspect of our lives.

So then there is growing conflict between the ever-expanding welfare state and the liberty our Constitution affords each of us to express our religious beliefs. As the state intrudes itself financially into virtually every aspect of our lives – our education, our medical needs, taking care of us in our retirement, etc – it gains the power (or claims to) to dictate to us the manner and degree of expression of our respective faiths. Whether it is limiting personal prayers shared between individuals, or, as in the example above, corporate prayers shared at a meal, the growth of government as our caretaker inevitably entails the imposition of secular restrictions on our lives.

 So the Progressive advancement of the welfare state has the potential not only to impoverish us in a material sense, but also in a spiritual sense. The ‘generosity’ of the state comes with not with mere strings attached, but with chains – chains which invariably reduce our hard won and most precious individual liberties. Ultimately interested in our most basic liberties must also oppose the growth of the welfare state on every level.