Supreme Court ruling confuses religious workers

Jan 20, 2012, 8:40 AM

Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) – Aleeza Adelman teaches Jewish studies at a Jewish school, yet she considers herself a teacher whose subject is religion, not a religious teacher. She’s rethinking how to define her job after a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling left her wondering what could happen if she ever needed to defend her right to keep it.

The high court ruled last week that religious workers can’t sue for job discrimination, but didn’t describe what constitutes a religious employee _ putting many people employed by churches, synagogues or other religious organizations in limbo over their rights.

“I think of myself as a teacher who is just like any other teacher,” said Adelman, who works at the New Orleans Jewish Day School. “Yes, my topic of teaching happens to be Jewish stuff, but if I were to just think in general about it, am I different from the teacher across the hall who is teaching secular studies?”

The justices denied government antidiscrimination protection to Cheryl Perich, a Detroit-area teacher and commissioned minister who complained to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that her firing was discriminatory under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The commission sued the Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School of Redford Township, Mich., over her firing.

Perich got sick in 2004 and tried to return work from disability leave despite a narcolepsy diagnosis. She was fired after she showed up at the school and threatened to sue to get her job back. A federal judge threw out the lawsuit on grounds that Perich fell under the so-called ministerial exception, which keeps the government from interfering with church affairs. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated her lawsuit, arguing that her primary function was teaching secular subjects so the ministerial exception didn’t apply.

The high court disagreed, but didn’t set rigid rules on who can be considered a religious worker of a religious organization. That appears to give wide leeway to churches and other religious organizations to decide who qualifies for the exception.

Rita Schwartz, president of Philadelphia-based National Association of Catholic School Teachers, said she’s comforted by the fact that the justices didn’t set a broad precedent. But she said it leaves employees of religious-based institutions in an unsettled position until or unless they are deemed a ministerial employee.

“I don’t mind that title unless it is used to deny my rights as a citizen,” said Schwartz, whose association was formed in 1978. “I don’t give up my rights at the schoolhouse door. I should not have to do that.”

Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote a separate opinion, argued that the ministerial exception should be tailored for only an employee “who leads a religious organization, conducts worship services or important religious ceremonies or rituals or serves as a messenger or teacher of its faith.”

Schwartz also is concerned about how far the exception can go. She supported maintenance workers in a dispute several years ago in which she said Catholic officials argued that the workers were ministerial employees because “they polished the pews in the chapels and they repaired the crucifixes on the walls.”

David Lopez said he sees both sides of the argument as an English instructor at both a Detroit-area Catholic high school and at a community college. At the college, he has the protections of collective bargaining, but at the high school he is an at-will employee with a year-to-year contract.

“I either accept that because I like the environment or I work at a public school where I have better protections,” said Lopez, whose day job is at Gabriel Richard High School in suburban Riverview.

“I enjoy teaching students who are actually interested in what I’m trying to teach them,” he said. “I lose the protection, but by the same token it’s a pleasant environment. It’s hard to put a price tag on something like that.”

Adelman said she has the highest respect for administrators at the New Orleans Jewish school and believes she would be treated fairly if a problem arose. Still, she’d like to think that she wouldn’t lose protections just because of what she teaches.

“If I felt discrimination in the workplace? Of course, I would definitely want to feel I have the right to speak up about any issue, and the fact that I’m a religious educator … is not going to cause problems along the way,” she said.

___

Follow Jeff Karoub on Twitter:
http://twitter.com/jeffkaroub

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

United States News

Associated Press

The next frontier for drones: letting them fly out of sight

REMINGTON, Va. (AP) — For years, there’s been a cardinal rule for flying civilian drones: Keep them within your line of sight. Not just because it’s a good idea — it’s also the law. But some drones have recently gotten permission to soar out of their pilots’ sight. They can now inspect high-voltage power lines […]
1 hour ago
People wearing face masks walk past a bank's electronic board showing the Hong Kong share index in ...
Associated Press

Asian benchmarks mostly lower after tepid Wall St session

TOKYO (AP) — Asian shares were mostly lower Wednesday after tepid trading on Wall Street amid worries about a global recession. Major benchmarks fell across Asia. Oil prices recouped some lost ground. Analysts said markets were focusing on a variety of risks, including inflation, oil prices, moves by the U.S. Federal Reserve and other central […]
1 day ago
FILE - Cynthia Moreno, 32, hangs a sign across the street from an U.S. Immigration and Customs Enfo...
Associated Press

Appeals arguments set on immigrants brought to US as kids

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Immigrant advocates head to a federal appeals court in New Orleans on Wednesday in hopes of saving an Obama-era program that prevents the deportation of thousands of people brought into the U.S. as children. A federal judge in Texas last year declared the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program illegal — […]
1 day ago
FILE - Auto rickshaw drivers line up to buy gas near a fuel station in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Wednesda...
Associated Press

Sri Lanka’s crisis rings alarm for other troubled economies

BANGKOK (AP) — Sri Lanka is desperate for help with weathering its worst crisis in recent memory. Its schools are closed for lack of fuel to get kids and teachers to classrooms. Its effort to arrange a bailout from the International Monetary Fund has been hindered by the severity of its financial crisis, its prime […]
1 day ago
FILE - Secretary of State Anthony Blinken speaks during a news conference in Berlin, Germany, June ...
Associated Press

G-20 meeting may lead to wider divisions over war in Ukraine

WASHINGTON (AP) — Foreign ministers from the world’s largest nations are looking to address the war in Ukraine and its impact on global energy and food security when they meet in Indonesia this week. Yet instead of providing unity, the talks may well exacerbate existing divides over the Ukraine conflict. U.S. Secretary of State Antony […]
1 day ago
FILE - Rioters face off with police at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. A growing n...
Associated Press

Judges keeping Capitol riot trials in DC amid bias claims

WASHINGTON (AP) — For some of the Washington, D.C., residents who reported for jury duty last month, a pro-Trump mob’s assault on the U.S. Capitol felt like a personal attack. Ahead of a trial for a Michigan man charged in the riot, one prospective juror said a police officer injured during the melee is a […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Dr. Richard Carmona

Great news: Children under 5 can now get COVID-19 vaccine

After more than two years of battle with an invisible killer, we can now vaccinate the youngest among us against COVID-19. This is great news.
...
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Vaccines are safe if you are pregnant or breastfeeding

Are you pregnant? Do you have a friend or loved one who’s expecting?
...
Christina O’Haver

BE FAST to spot a stroke

Every 40 seconds—that’s how often someone has a stroke in the United States. It’s the fifth leading cause of death among Americans, with someone dying of a stroke every 3.5 minutes.
Supreme Court ruling confuses religious workers