U.S. Supreme Court Rules in Favor Religious Exemption to Discrimination Laws

In a landmark decision hailed by conservative Christians and advocates for religious liberty, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday in favor of a Redford Township church's firing of a teacher.

The case centered on Cheryl Perich, who developed narcolepsy and sought to keep her job, which the church said she no longer could perform.

The court's ruling upheld the legal principle that houses of worship have what's called a ministerial exception, meaning they are exempt from some government laws, such as anti-discrimination laws. Such an exception allows the Catholic Church to ban women from being priests, for example.

In a unanimous decision, the court ruled that it was legal for Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School in Redford Township to fire Perich after she complained she was being discriminated against because of a disability.

"Praise God for giving the justices the wisdom to uphold the religious freedom enshrined in our Constitution," said the Rev. Paul Undlin of Hosanna-Tabor.

The case started in 2005 after the church tried to remove Perich because of her narcolepsy. Perich then said she was considering legal action. The church said Perich's threat was disruptive and violated a church policy to settle disputes internally.

Perich then filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming her employment had been terminated in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a court filing said.

The U.S. government defended Perich; the church was represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and professor Douglas Laycock of the University of Virginia School of Law.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed a brief in favor of Perich. "We are disappointed with today's result," spokesman Rana Elmir said.

The group Americans United for Separation of Church and State also expressed disappointment.

"Clergy who are fired for reasons unrelated to matters of theology -- no matter how capricious or venal those reasons may be -- have just had the courthouse door slammed in their faces," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of the group.

Contact Niraj Warikoo: 313-223-4792 or [email protected]

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