Ben Johnson,The White House Watch
The Obama administration is arguing for the Supreme Court to violate a Christian church’s doctrine and subject a vast array of churches and ministries to the law of Mammon.
On Wednesday,the Supreme Court heard arguments in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The case revolves around a teacher in the K-8 parochial school in Redford,Michigan,a hard-hit suburb of Detroit. (The school has since merged with another parochial school in Farmington Hills to become Concordia Lutheran School.) Cheryl Perich had been diagnosed with narcolepsy and given temporary leave. The school attempted to hold her job by combining three grades in one classroom for a semester,but when it became obvious she would be unable to return for an indeterminate period of time,the school moved to replace her. Adding to her problems,Perich did not file the required forms for her lengthy leave. In time,the school moved to end their relationship. The church laws of its sponsoring denomination —the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) —require the case to be handled by church tribunal,but Perich balked,suing the church in secular court under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The Obama administration’s EEOC joined the case against the church. It is joined by such legal and cultural left-wing stalwarts as the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund,People for the American Way,the Anti-Defamation League,and,unsurprisingly,the National Employment Lawyers Association,which sees this as a possible source of new clients (from ambulance chasers to processional chasers).
At the heart of the matter is whether the school is subject to the ADA. The church school contends Perich was a “commissioned minister,”and lower courts have allowed for a “ministerial exception” to federal anti-discrimination laws. The courts agree churches,in accordance with the First Amendment,should appoint their own clergy without the federal intervention,and many have extended this same right to employees the church considers part of its ministerial team. The Obama administration would like to change that.
The Obama administration’s brief states that the school was a “commercial”entity,because it charged tuition (although the school was subsidized by the church). Since the school “required all teachers —called or contract,Lutheran or not —to perform the same job duties,”it did not matter whether she was a lay teacher or a ministerial teacher. Perich “taught secular subjects,”the administration argues. She read “secular textbooks commonly used in public schools,”and can only remember injecting Christian teaching into her subject matter in “two instances.”
The church counters by showing just how important her ministerial role was. The school is not a stand-alone entity but a part of the Hosanna-Tabor Lutheran Church,another avenue of spreading the Gospel to schoolchildren. USA Today reported,Perich “taught math,social studies,music and other subjects,along with religion.”Although the plaintiff states that she used “secular textbooks,”the school’s brief reflects the reality in all parochial schools,that she “was required to integrate faith into secular subjects.”If she did this only twice,that may reflect on her faith or religious integration,not on the school’s mission.
Perhaps most compelling,though,is the role teachers played in the school’s religious life. Perich taught a half-hour religious course four days a week. She led morning devotions,prayed with her students three times a day,and led chapel services twice a year,which involved “selecting the liturgy,Scripture readings,and hymns to be sung,and delivering a short message of her own composition based on the Scripture readings.”Perich is a “called”teacher and thus considered a “commissioned minister” by the LCMS. However,she could not perform actions related to the Word and Sacrament in other settings.
The LCMS has a well-developed theology of service by “call”and the peaceful settlement of disputes between Christians. That doctrine requires….