Some of you may not have heard about it on the news, but the Obama Administration was slapped down hard by the Supreme Court of the United States recently, and given that it had to do with religious freedom I would figure many of you might be interested. (In a side note, it also adds another bit of evidence against goofy anti-501(c)(3) heresy, which I’ll try to point out at the end.)
The case was Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, et al. I mentioned the case back before the Feast of Tabernacles last year, and the decision was given on January 11, 2012.
And the decision was a strong statement about religious freedom int he U.S.: A unanimous decision, 9-0, with “liberal” and “conservative” judges united behind the idea that the churches and other religious groups were allowed exemption to employment discrimination laws and that, in the words of the New York Times, they “must be free to choose and dismiss their leaders without government interference.”
Feel free to read the entire New York Times article. I’d rather not go through the details of the lawsuit, which can be read in the article and in my first post mentioning it. (There’s another account here that gives more interesting details.) That President Obama’s administration jumped into the fray, through the Department of Justice, asking the Supreme Court to support the suit and saying that churches have no Constitutional rights beyond those held by any other voluntary “fraternal” groups was remarkable, to say the least, and, perhaps, reveals this administration’s views of religious organizations: “nothing special.”
The Supreme Court disagreed. In fact, given the unanimous decision and the very strong language in the published opinions, “disagreed” seems to be too light a word. It was a smack down.
The New York Times’ article saw it this way, too, calling the decision “surprising in both its sweep and its unanimity”:
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.
The administration had told the justices that their analysis of Ms. Perich’s case should be essentially the same whether she had been employed by a church, a labor union, a social club or any other group with free-association rights under the First Amendment. That position received withering criticism when the case was argued in October, and it was soundly rejected in Wednesday’s decision.
“That result is hard to square with the text of the First Amendment itself, which gives special solicitude to the rights of religious organizations,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote. “We cannot accept the remarkable view that the religion clauses have nothing to say about a religious organization’s freedom to select its own ministers.”
Roberts’ comment quoted there at the end is a wonderful tongue-in-cheek repudiation for anyone’s attempt to say that the Constitution does not intend religious organizations differently than other organizations.
Roberts is very clear in his statements, with no room for much ambiguity concerning the freedom granted specifically to religious organizations in the First Amendment: “The Establishment Clause prevents the government from appointing ministers, and the Free Exercise Clause prevents it from interfering with the freedom of religious groups to select their own.”
The amazing quality of the decision shouldn’t be seen just in the language but in the strong unanimity of the decision. For instance, Justice Samuel Alito and Justice Elena Kagan wrote a concurring opinion together stating, essentially, that the government has no sweeping right to determine the difference between “employee” and “minister” based on its own ideas of what would constitute a proper “ordination.” As the Wall Street Journal observed on January 13, seeing Justice Alito and Justice Kagan submit this concurring opinion together is the equivalent of “judicial dogs and cats living together.” The same Wall Street Journal piece notes that the unanimous decision in this case is a “crushing rebuke” to the overreach of the President’s Administration.
So, hurray for the Supreme Court! While I do not get involved in politics and such, I do appreciate the religious freedom we enjoy in the United States, and it was wonderful seeing it defended from one of the most blatant attacks I’ve seen in a while.
On another note, though, this just demolishes the idea that making your church a 501(c)(3) organization means that you are giving the government “complete control” of your church, that the government can now force you to appoint certain ministers and teach certain doctrines, etc. What garbage, and this case shows it to be such. Were such conspiracy-minded folks correct, the Obama Administration could have simply acted on its supposed authority and made Hosanna-Tabor Lutheran Church (which is 501(c)(3), but the way, according to guidestar.org) do what it wanted in this case. Yet the Supreme Court said that the government has no say in telling this Church how to choose its own ministers: the exact opposite of what anti-501(c)(3) junkies claim. Being 501(c)(3) made no difference whatsoever, and the current administration was publicly humiliated for attempting to press such a position — a position that anti-501(c)(3) junkies claim is fundamental.
So, once again: When Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong made the Church a 501(c)(3) compliant organization — and his signature here proves that he did just that — he was not sinning, and neither are we. The idea that 501(c)(3) compliance somehow gives the government control over your church is conspiracy-minded silliness — and worse, it distracts from the Church’s mission. My thanks to the Supreme Court for adding one more piece of evidence to the already huge pile. Will this silence those noisy few who think otherwise? Not likely, since no evidence so far has. But it’s nice to know all the same. When someone comes at you with “theories” on this matter, feel free to respond with evidence. When they ignore the evidence and simply repeat their theories, feel free to ignore them.