Obama Administration slapped hard by Supreme Court

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.

12 thoughts on “Obama Administration slapped hard by Supreme Court

  1. John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav)

    I am loving this decision so much. Here is why we need to pray for those in authority: so that when it really needs to, sound-mindedness that will keep us free to obey God and do His Work in helping “all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” can go forward unhindered, will prevail.

    And as for the rest, I trust conspiracy theorists of any kind about as far as I could throw the Big Mo (in the immortal words of Bugs Bunny about Pete Puma). Here’s why.

    (Joh 7:14 RSV) About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and taught.
    (Joh 7:15 RSV) The Jews marveled at it, saying, “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?”
    (Joh 7:16 RSV) So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me;
    (Joh 7:17 RSV) if any man’s will is to do his will, he shall know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.
    (Joh 7:18 RSV) He who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but he who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.

    Verse 18 can be applied across the board in principle.

  2. Thanks Mr. Smith. And a thanks to John for the across the board principle. This is all good to read and to know. Knowledge is always good, proof is far more desirable to have than theories.
    The line I posted, from your post is very good. I especially like the second sentence.
    I ignore the theories frequently.

    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.

  3. Michael O'Byrne

    I’m not familiar with this controversy and am at a loss as to what it’s all about: Could you explain as simply as you can as to what it’s all about Mr. Smith? Thank you!

  4. Howdy, Mr. O’Byrne! I don’t have much time, but two of the sources I linked to above — the New York Times article and the Townhall.com essay — cover it pretty well. Essentially, religious organizations have always been considered exempt to a certain extent from certain “hiring and firing” laws since the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States guarantees freedom of religion (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”) and it is understood that religious organizations, such as churches, have a fundamental right to choose those who represent them (ministers and the like). This suit was over a former church teacher who sued to have her job back under certain employment laws after the church revoked her “call” which would, essentially, force the church to allow her to teach classes, lead children in prayer and worship, etc.

    The President’s administration supported her suit and said, essentially, that in this case her position wasn’t “ministerial” enough to warrant exempting the church from labor restrictions and that the church should be forced to hire her back and forced to use her in its teaching ministry. The administration also said that no church should have any more protection than other forms of voluntary, secular, fraternal assembly.

    The Supreme Court — both liberals and conservatives — unanimously struck down that reasoning, saying that the First Amendment provides specific freedoms to religious organizations, distinct from other, secular assemblies, and that it is ridiculous to say otherwise. They also stressed that this means a church has the right to choose who will represent it in ministry and that the government is dramatically limited in its ability to tell a church who is a “minister” and who isn’t. It was dramatic in the way that the entire court was unified, including two Justices President Obama had, himself, nominated, and in the strong language used.

    That is a horrible summary, I’m afraid, but I hope it helps. Really, I do recommend the other two links — the NYT and the Townhall link — for a better discussion, but hopefully it will get you started.

    Have a great Sabbath!

  5. Michael O'Byrne

    Thank you, Mr. Smith. I do now recall hearing something about this case and you have summarized it pretty clearly. The Supreme Court result is certainly to be welcomed. I could imagine the furore if the Irish Government attempted to pull a stroke like this, but when we consider that in prophecy we are warned of persecution in the not-too-distant future I won’t be surprised at lies ahead for us. Thank you again for taking the time to explain – and I hope you and yours have a great Sabbath.

  6. Leona Dixon

    Thanks for sharing that Mr. Smith, I really appreciate your note on this En Route. Gives me the freedom of understanding and knowledge, especially on The Supreme Court of the United States, wow that is something I haven’t heard yet. Not here in New Zealand, or perhaps I missed the News. So I’m still reading more from the articles you linked. You and your Family have a wonderful Sabbath.

  7. I had heard nothing about this either though I’m not really surprised; it has all the marks of satan trying to work in a sneaky manner to get things headed the way he wishes them to. The fact that he used the president and his administration says alot about where and what our president is about. I know our country is going down but it’s good to see these reminders of what it was and in many places still is. I felt the same after reading this as I did about the story of the Iranians who had been captured by Somali pirates in the North Arabian Sea, rescued by our american soldiers; very little press about that situation. America still does the right thing at times. Thank you for sharing this story Mr. Smith and I think your “readers digest version” was good.

  8. The III

    To make the 501(c)3 a issue of removing ministers is a great exaggeration. 501(c)(3) compliance says you must keep church and state separate. This gives the Gov. power to tell you what you can and can not say publicly in the pulpit. This is why you will never hear LCG spend a whole program preaching against homosexuality because the gov. deems it as hate speech and can pull your none profit status. It was not designed to remove ministers it was designed to shut them up so that they would have no influence in state matters. The state also deems how the monies of corporations and nonprofit corps can and can not spend their revenue. If this is not control, than what is?
    If the gov. can control the money and what is said, what do they care who is doing the spending and talking. Is this not the real issue when it comes to the 501(c)3 debate?

    -The III

  9. Greetings, The III, and thanks. I wish I were exaggerating some of the things that 501(c)3 conspiracy folks say, but I am indeed confronted with some crazy claims.

    However, you are correct in that 501(c)3 is more about separation of Church and State than what the conspiracy folks say it is. But beyond that, your comments are not accurate. For instance, if the U.S. government would pull our non-profit status for preaching against homosexuality, then why have we been able to print full articles on the topic (note: even within the last couple of issues), as well as condemn the practice in numerous programs as a sin against God? To be frank (and perhaps to educate you), Canada is far more of a threat when it comes to “shutting up” ministers speaking the truth, and being non-profit has restricted us in no way at all that I can think of. Truly none. I have been able to say all I like. WGN has censored me, but not the American government — not once. And please note that it isn’t “theory” for me: It’s a working, day-to-day reality. Restrictions like Canada’s (which are not non-profit based and apply to public speakers across the board) require a savvy like Paul showed in Acts 17, but it has not hindered the truth (at least not yet). And if it ever does, we will answer as Peter did in Acts 5:29. Again, concerns about 501(c)3 restrictions never enter my mind when it comes to topic selection. Literally: Never.

    Ditto for money — we spend it on whatever we want for the service of the gospel. Seriously: to my knowledge I can’t think of a single U.S. dollar that non-profit status has limited us in spending for God’s work. Not a single one. Now, if we were the sort of church that likes to promote a particular political party or candidate, sure, that would be a problem. But we don’t and have absolutely no interest in doing so! When it comes to the political parties, we are equal opportunity “offenders” in our preaching. 🙂

    Now, should a church be free to act in politics and remain tax-free? That’s a debate others are welcome to have, but thankfully it doesn’t affect us or our Work in any significant way at all.

    Thanks, again, for commenting.

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