The Supreme Court is struggling to reach a decision in the case of Hosanna-Tabor Church v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which centers on a teacher at a church-run school who claims she was fired because she pursued an employment discrimination claim against the school based on her disability.
The issue here is whether the laws forbidding employment discrimination fully apply to religious groups, and to what extent the government can interfere with religious groups to redress discrimination. For example, women are not allowed to serve as priests in the Roman Catholic Church, can the government declare this illegal and force a change? The Justices were having a difficult time coming up with a solution that would both limit government interference in the operations of religious organizations and protect employees from discrimination. The justices rejected the claim that there was no difference between an employment discrimination case that involves a church and one that involves a labor union, implying the free exercise clause and establishment clauses of the First Amendment (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”) did not apply.
The lawyer representing the church that runs the school argued that the Supreme Court ought to recognize the “ministerial exception” which forbids the government from interfering in the relationship between religious groups and employees who preform religious duties. However, the Justices were uncomfortable with this approach as well, deeming it too broad in its scope (so that it would affect sexual abuse reporting at religious organizations etc), and problematic in its definition of which employees would be considered “ministers”.
Another option for the Court, suggested by Justice Breyer, was to ignore the First Ammendment issues altogether and limiting the defense to a line from the Americans with Disabilities Act, which allows religious organizations to require that “all employees conform to the religious tenets” of the organization. However the plaintiff’s lawyers contend that this defense does not apply in this case