Humanists Cautiously Optimistic After Supreme Court Religious Employment Discrimination Hearing
(Washington D.C., October 5, 2011) Leadership at the American Humanist Association has expressed cautious optimism today at the Supreme Court’s handling of oral arguments in the Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC et al case. The Appignani Humanist Legal Center filed an amicus curiae brief in the case of on behalf of the American Humanist Association and six other allied organizations.
“The Supreme Court has in past rulings made clear that the Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution does not give religious defendants a special right to violate any law that they feel infringes in some way on their freedom of religion,” said Bill Burgess, attorney and legal coordinator of the American Humanist Association’s legal arm, the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, who attended the oral arguments at the Supreme Court this morning. “As shown by their engaged questioning of counsel for both sides today, the Court is grappling with the practical difficulties and Constitutional pitfalls of lawsuits relating to religious employment.”
The Court heard an appeal of a case that turned on the question of whether religious organizations have a constitutional right to discriminate on the basis of race, gender, age or disability in violation of employment laws. The special religious exemption at issue in this case, called the “ministerial exception” by those lower courts that have adopted it, has never been considered by the Supreme Court before today. The right of religious employers, such as churches and related institutions, to require that employees to be of the same religion as their employer, and to follow that religion’s dictates, is not at issue in this case.
"I remain hopeful that the Supreme Court will again defend the principle that religious institutions are not above the law,” Burgess continued. “This includes our laws restricting employment discrimination, which protect the important social value of equality."
The Appignani Humanist Legal Center is a project of the American Humanist Association that provides legal assistance to defend the constitutional rights of secular Americans by challenging violations of the separation of church and state guaranteed by the Establishment Clause of the Constitution and seeking equal rights for humanists, atheists and other freethinkers.
The American Humanist Association (www.americanhumanist.org) advocates for the rights and viewpoints of humanists. Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., its work is extended through more than 100 local chapters and affiliates across America.
Humanism is the idea that you can be good without a belief in God.