Lesson Plan – Hosanna-Tabor Church v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Certiorari granted by the United States Supreme Court on March 28, 2011
Oral arguments scheduled for October 5, 2011
Case decided January 11, 2012
- The Parties
- The Questions Presented
- Case Background
- The Law
- Justice Voting History
- The Arguments
- Oral Arguments
- The Court’s Opinion
- Blog Topics
|Petitioner: Hosanna-Tabor Church||
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
From 1999 to 2005, Cheryl Perich taught elementary school at Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School. While Perich taught secular subject matter to her classes, Hosanna-Tabor generally offers students a “Christ-centered education” that involves religious classes, chapel services, as well as prayer and devotional time led by teachers. By the time Perich was terminated from her teaching position in 2005, she had earned “called” teacher status, which requires completing religious colloquy classes and being chosen by the voting members of the church congregation.
In 2004, Perich took a medical leave of absence from her employment with Hosanna-Tabor when she was diagnosed with narcolepsy. After Perich’s diagnosis, doctors assured her that she would be able to return to teaching after receiving proper treatment. The principal of Hosanna-Tabor assured her that she would still have a position at the school after her disability leave. Toward the end of Perich’s leave though, the principal and school board became concerned that Perich’s disability would interfere with her ability to care for her students and voiced their concern to the congregation.
The congregation voted to offer Perich a peaceful release agreement where she could resign in exchange for partial payment of her health care fees. Perich rejected the agreement and informed her employer that she intended to return to work. On February 22, 2005, Perich returned to resume her teaching duties but was told that there was no longer a position for her at Hosanna-Tabor. Soon after, she retained a lawyer and filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) alleging unlawful discrimination and a violation of her rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). The EEOC informed Hosanna-Tabor of the complaint, and Perich was officially terminated from her teaching position. The EEOC and Perich filed suit against Hosanna-Tabor for unlawful discrimination based on her disability.
At the District Court
Opinion of the Court of Appeals
Perich and the EEOC appealed the District Court’s decision to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Sixth Circuit reversed the previous decision, holding that Perich was not covered by the ministerial exception, because she spent a majority of her time performing secular duties–that is teaching non-religious classes. Although Hosanna-Tabor gave Perich the title of “commissioned minister,” the court placed more importance on the fact that Perich used secular teaching materials and taught non-religious subjects to her classes. The Court remanded the case, which allowed Perich to move forward with her lawsuit against Hosanna-Tabor.
While the Sixth Circuit held that Perich was not a “ministerial employee” for the purposes of this exception to the ADA, Judge Eric Clay acknowledged in his opinion that some other circuit courts use differing standards to determine who qualifies for the ministerial exception. Because the decision of one federal circuit court is not binding on the others, this creates a “circuit split” that can be resolved by Supreme Court ruling on the issue at hand.
Hosanna-Tabor appealed the decision to the United States Supreme Court, arguing that the Sixth Circuit wrongly interpreted the ministerial exception to the ADA and asking the Supreme Court to resolve the circuit split on how to define a ministerial employee.
The Supreme Court granted the writ of certiorari and agreed to hear the case on March 28, 2011. Oral arguments are scheduled for October 5, 2011.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
No [employer] shall discriminate against a qualified individual on the basis of disability in regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment
In Bell v. Wolfish, the Supreme Court upheld a prison policy of strip searching all inmates following supervised visits with guests from outside the prison. The Court laid out a complex balancing test, but concluded that “reasonable individualized suspicion” was not necessary to make a prison strip search policy constitutional.
The Serbian Orthodox Church suspended and removed Milivojech from his position as a bishop for “canonical misconduct,” but Milivojech challenged his termination in court. The Supreme Court of Illinois agreed with the former bishop and held that he must be reinstated because the removal proceedings did not follow proper procedure and were therefore invalid. The Supreme Court of the United States considered that case and held that the Illinois court’s interference with the with matters of church governance violated the free exercise clause of the First Amendment. The 7-2 majority reasoned that the decision to remove Milivojevich for his insubordination was made by the highest authority in the Serbian Orthodox Church, therefore that religious body, not the court, should have the sole power to appoint and suspend bishops.
This case arose when several Native Americans were terminated from their jobs and refused unemployment benefits because they smoked peyote in religious ceremonies. Peyote is a drug outlawed in the state of Oregon. The fired employees sued their former employee, claiming that to punish these individuals for their use of the drug during a religious ceremony was a violation of their right to free exercise of religion. In a 6-3 decision, the Court held that it is constitutional for the state of Oregon to regulate drug use and that the law does not conflict with the “free exercise” clause. Justice Scalia, writing for the majority, explained that the free exercise argument failed because the First Amendment does not allow a person to disobey the law simply because they have a religious objection.
In accordance with a Washington state law that forbids the state from funding religious education, certain scholarships were granted to college students under the condition that they do not pursue a theology degree. One student, Joshua Davey, who was awarded the scholarship was forced to give up the money when he enrolled in a Christian pastoral ministries program. He challenged the constitutionality of the state’s action, saying that it violated his right to free exercise of religion. In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court held that the state did not interfere with Davey’s First Amendment rights by only funding non-religious studies. The Court reasoned that, while the state law prevented funding for religious studies, it did not have a discriminatory reason for doing so. Instead, the state had a “substantial interest” in preventing state funds from directly supporting religious activity.
When Hastings College of Law created a school-wide non-discrimination policy that required student organizations to accept all interested students, the Christian Legal Society challenged the policy on the grounds that it violated several of their First Amendment rights — including their right to freely exercise their Christian faith. The 5-4 majority rejected CLS’s free exercise claim, holding that the school’s policy did not violate the group right to exercise their religious beliefs because the policy was applied to all student groups. Therefore the policy did not discriminate against religious groups. In his dissent, Justice Alito disagreed with the holding, writing that the policy did single out religious organizations like CLS and therefore infringed on their First Amendment rights of expressive association.
This chart could help with predicting the outcome of the case and how the Justices will vote. But be
careful: a lot will depend on the facts of this case and not how someone has voted in the past. [Note: the Justices are listed in order of seniority with the Chief Justice first.]
|Employment Div. v. Smith (1990)||Locke v. Davey (2004)||C.L.S. v. Martinez (2010)|
|Roberts||Not yet on Court||Not yet on Court||NC|
|Thomas||Not yet on Court||NC||NC|
|Ginsburg||Not yet on Court||C||C|
|Breyer||Not yet on Court||C||C|
|Alito||Not yet on Court||Not yet on Court||NC|
|Sotomayor||Not yet on Court||Not yet on Court||C|
|Kagan||Not yet on Court||Not yet on Court||Not yet on Court|
|C||The Justice voted that the statute was constitutional.|
|Yes, but…||The Justice voted with the majority, but disagreed about why.|
|NC||The Justice voted that the statute was unconstutional.|
|Not yet on Court||The Justice was not yet on the Court when the case was decided.|
Hosanna-Tabor Church (Petitioner)
EEOC & Perich (Respondent)
On January 11, 2012, the Court unanimously reversed the Sixth Circuit in an opinion written by Chief Justice Roberts. Justice Thomas filed a concurring opinion, as did Justice Alito joined by Justice Kagan. Chief Justice Roberts began the Court’s opinion by documenting the history of church-state relations–specifically, governments’ past attempts at appointing clergy–in England and in pre and post-Revolutionary America. “It was against this background” wrote the Chief Justice, “that the First Amendment was adopted. Familiar with life under the established Church of England, the founding generation sought to foreclose the possibility of a national church.” Additionally, as evidence of the Framers’ intent, the Court noted two specific instances in which James Madison, the main drafter of the Bill of Rights, specifically rejected attempts or offers for the government to appoint religious leaders.
After then surveying caselaw on the issue, the Court unequivocally recognized the existence of a ministerial exception. Because “[t]he members of a religious group put their faith in the hands of their ministers . . . . [r]equiring a church to accept or retain an unwanted minister, or punishing a church for failing to do so . . . . interferes with the internal governance of the church, depriving the church of control over the selection of those who will personify its beliefs.” The Religion Clauses of the First Amendment, the Court wrote, were meant to prevent the government from intruding upon ecclesiastical decisions.
Once it determined that the ministerial exception exists, the Court’s final question was whether Cheryl Perich was a minister under the rule. The Court held that, under the facts of this case, Perich was a minister, however, the Court was clear that it did not intend “to adopt a rigid formula for deciding when an employee qualifies as a minister.” Among the reasons for finding that Perich was a minister, the Court noted that the church held Perich out as a minister to others; that Perich held herself out as a minister; that Perich had specialized religious training for her position; and that Perich’s job role including conveying the church’s religious message to students. The Court acknowledged that Perich taught secular subjects and performed secular duties, as well as the fact that her religious teaching usually only consumed about 45 minutes a day. However, the Court noted, “[t]he issue before us . . . is not one that can be resolved by a stopwatch.”
Thus, the Court held, Perich was a “minister” within the meaning of the ministerial exception and accordingly, could not sue Hosanna-Tabor for employment discrimination after the church fired her.
Write the Opinion – Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC Badge (200 Points)
Friend of the Court - Amicus Brief Badge (150 points)
The Free Exercise Clause - First Amendment Badge (50 points)
EEOC v. Hosanna-Tabor’s Effect on Religious Schools - Education Badge (50 points)
Discrimination & Religious Employees - Employees’ Rights Badge (50 points)
Conflict between the Courts - Justice Badge (50 points)
Eliminating the Ministerial Exception? - Legislative Process Badge (50 points)
- Full opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
- Docket information at the Supreme Court: This page will be updated as more briefs are filed.