Rabbi Saperstein: "This decision marks the first time the Supreme Court has affirmed a wide range of federal Circuit Court opinions upholding the doctrine of the 'ministerial exception.'"
WASHINGTON, D.C., January 11, 2012 - The United States Supreme Court unanimously overturned an earlier ruling by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran School and Church v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and held that there is a "ministerial exception" from anti-discrimination laws. The Union for Reform Judaism filed an amicus brief in conjunction with the American Jewish Committee in favor of the petitioner, Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School seeking a balanced approach between religious and other civil rights. In response to the decision Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:
"We are encouraged by the Supreme Court's robust interpretation of the 'ministerial exception' and the recognition of the right of religious institutions to determine who can act as their clergy. This decision marks the first time the Supreme Court has affirmed a wide range of federal Circuit Court opinions upholding the doctrine of the 'ministerial exception. The Supreme Court's acknowledgement that religious institutions are exempted from government regulations in their hiring and firing practices in regard to clergy is a favorable decision for ensuring religious autonomy in a limited manner that still maintains vital anti-discrimination laws that protect the rights of employees of all faiths and no faith.
The Court found that Ms. Perich, whose lawyers argued that she had been fired from the Hosanna-Tabor School in violation of anti-discrimination laws, was properly classified as a minister. The opinion stated that the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment 'bar suits brought on behalf of ministers against their churches, claiming termination in violation of employment discrimination laws.' We are gratified that the Court agreed with our position on those aspects of this case.
At the same time we are concerned that the Court did not clarify how a person who is unsure of their status as a minister is able to engage in legal action (such as the EEOC complaint with this case) to discover if they are entitled to civil rights protection without opening themselves up to retaliatory action by their religious employer."