Does the Minister’s Exception apply to Staff Attorneys?

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito

Deputy Justice of the Supreme Court Samuel Alito

A Seattle-based Christian group that refuses to hire a bisexual attorney has been denied a Supreme Court hearing on Monday, though two justices on the right side of the supreme court are clear. accepted the position of the religious organization.

In six pages declareJustice Samuel Alito promoted a broader view of the so-called “ministry exception“To federal anti-discrimination laws. Joined by Justice Clarence ThomasAlito’s statement in Seattle United Evangelical Missions sues Matthew S. Woods represents one of a series of articles from Alito on giving religious groups scope from civil rights law. All the judges seem to agree that the case is not yet ripe for consideration.

The controversy behind the case began in 2017 when the lawyer Matthew Woods sued the Missionary Gospel Alliance (“Mission”) in state court in Washington. Woods said the Christian group violated federal anti-discrimination law by refusing to hire him as a staff attorney with their Open Legal Services (ODLS) programs.

Celebrating his latest legal victimization, Woods told Law & Crime in a statement: “I’m bringing this up because I don’t want my experience to happen to anyone else.”

ODLS is a free legal aid clinic run by Mission – a non-profit Christian ministry. The clinic is religious in nature and its staff conducts religious activities with patrons, such as praying with them and discussing Jesus. The clinic requires employees to attend church regularly, receive referrals from their pastor, and provide information about their “personal relationship with Jesus.”

Woods is a former summer intern and ODLS volunteer. When ODLS posted an open position for staff attorneys, Woods spoke with the director about applying. In response, the director told Woods he couldn’t “apply” because the employee handbook prohibits “homosexual behavior.” Woods is still applying for jobs, and in his cover letter, asks ODLS to change his ways.

ODLS refused to change its policies, and the director explained to Woods that “his application was not viable because he did not comply with the Mission’s religious lifestyle requirements, was not active attend church and show no passion for helping clients develop a personal relationship with Jesus. Woods sued, alleging that the Mission discriminated against him based on his sexual orientation, which is illegal under the Washington State constitution.

“I volunteered to work with SUGM for several years and felt spiritually connected there, only to have SUGM invalidate my ability to do that work with them just because of who I am and who I am. I love you,” Woods wrote in a statement. “I am grateful that people of LGBTQ+ faith like me will have more opportunities to work without discrimination.”

Earlier, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled in Woods’ favor, arguing that discrimination based on sexual orientation actually violates the Washington State constitution. However, that court made it clear that discrimination was problematic because Woods was supposed to be an employee. It detailed, explaining that the state constitution would not be violated had Woods’ position as one of the “ministers”. The court then turned the case into “a trial court to determine whether staff attorneys can qualify as ministers”. The Supreme Court’s denial remains that status quo.

Justice Alito repeats his judgments in recent cases regarding the “ministerial exception” in schools, wrote that the Washington Supreme Court was wrong to believe that the exception only applied to “official ministers.” Instead, he reminds, “our precedent shows that the guarantee of church autonomy is not too narrowly limited.”

Citing his own concurrence in a recent case, Alito wrote, that the existence of “religious groups” is exclusive to
Alito writes in this context as the collective expression and propagation of common religious ideals ‘and ‘there is no doubt that the messenger is significant’ in that religious expression. “

Justice then continued, warning against depriving religious organizations of their freedom to choose their own messengers:

Forcing religious organizations to hire messengers and other employees who do not share their religious views would not only undermine the autonomy of many religious organizations, but also their ability to continue to exist. surname. If States could force religious organizations to hire employees who fundamentally disagree with them, many religious nonprofits would be barred from participating in public life — perhaps because who disagreed with their theological views most strongly. Pushing such organizations out of the public square would not only violate their right to freely exercise their religion, but would greatly impoverish the civic and religious life of our Nation.

Alito remarked that Woods’ case was one that “illustrated that grave danger,” and remarked that the Washington Supreme Court could have ruled in a way that directly contradicts the U.S. Constitution.

The mission’s lawyer John Bursch Take Alito’s statement as an auspicious sign for the future of litigation.

“Churches and religious organizations have a First Amendment right to hire people who share their beliefs with impunity from the government,” Bursch told Law & Crime in an email. “That is why, although the Supreme Court has decided not to hear the case, we are pleased to see statements from several judges on the court saying, ‘The decision of the Washington Supreme Court has may warrant our review in the future’ when the case moves to a later stage of litigation. ”

Alito allowed that the case was not ready for SCOTUS to review, writing that “threshold issues would make it difficult for us to review this case” at this time.

Legal experts were quick to take the conservative judges’ statement as a sign of their intention to expand the ministerial-level exception further. Slate‘S Mark Joseph Stern tweeted, “Alito, joined by Thomas, wants to extend the ‘ministerial exception’ of religious employers from civil rights law, allowing these employers complete freedom to discriminate against any candidate or employee who does not share the employer’s religious views.”

Zack Ford, press secretary for the advocacy group Coalition for Justice, tweeted: “There are no subtleties here. Alito and Thomas want employers to have the freedom to discriminate against workers who simply have a same-sex relationship if it violates the employer’s religious beliefs.

Woods’s attorney Denise DiskinExecutive director of the QLaw Foundation of Washington, said in a statement: “Discrimination does not belong to social services and we are excited to begin the process of confirming that LGBTQ+ people have adequate like anyone else to provide support and help to vulnerable people in their communities. ”

Update — March 21 at 1:36 p.m. Eastern Time: This story has been updated to include comments by Woods and his attorney.

Read the statement below:

[image via Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images]

Is there a trick we should know? [email protected] Does the Minister’s Exception apply to Staff Attorneys?

James Brien

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