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Religious Teachers Ponder Employment Protections in Wake of SCOTUS Decision

The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that impacts religious teachers raised many questions for the thousands of teachers and religious staff persons employed by religious organizations throughout the country. As the president of the National Association of Catholic School Teachers put it, “I don’t give up my rights at the schoolhouse door. I should not have to do that.”

The Court ruled last week that a religious employee may not hold the church responsible for disability discrimination because the Constitution prevents the government from interfering with the church’s decisions. The court overturned the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals decision that allowed the Detroit teacher to file an EEOC suit against the Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church in Michigan.

The holding in the Supreme Court case, however, said that religious employers have power to make their own decisions with regards to their religious workers, but it did not specify who was covered in the decision. Is a teacher at a church who teaches math a “religious employee”? Or how about a janitor at a mosque?

These questions leave many educators and employees at religious organizations wondering about their employment status and their workplace protections. It’s likely that future cases will have to vet the outcome of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Source: Washington Post, “Supreme Court ruling on church discrimination leaves educators at religious schools in limbo,” 1/20/2012

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