The Day We All Became Lutheran Ministers

In a sweeping victory for common sense and Religious Freedom, the Supreme Court Wednesday affirmed the totally uncontroversial and obvious principle that religious organizations are pretty much above the law, the end, you can all go home now. In its ruling, the Roberts Court invalidated a lawsuit by a former church employee who maintained that she was discriminated against when she was fired by a Lutheran school for violating the strictures of the faith. Justice John Roberts echoed the voice of the majority when he noted:

“The interest of society in the enforcement of employment discrimination statutes is undoubtedly important, but so, too, is the interest of religious groups in choosing who will preach their beliefs, teach their faith and carry out their mission.”

And just what was the doctrinal crime of which Cheryl Perich, the fired employee, a teacher at a Lutheran school, was guilty? Was she preaching the merits of abortion in her classroom? Was she criticizing the Lutheran denomination’s use of white wine instead of red at services? Was she…. gasp… a practitioner of the love that dares not speak its name, a mild mannered church employee by day but wild, carpet munching Amazon harpie by night?

No. Cheryl Perich is a woman who suffers from narcolepsy, and her crime against the faith, her heresy, her doctrinal faux pas, was the unpardonable sin of pursuing an anti-discrimination lawsuit against her employer, based on a failure to accommodate her disability:

Ms. Perich was a “called” teacher who had completed religious training and whom the school considered a minister. She was fired, the school said, for violating religious doctrine by pursuing litigation rather than trying to resolve her dispute within the church.

Read that, then read it again. Take a second to let it sink in. The Lutheran church basically declared any act that harms its financial interests or the financial interests of its subsidiaries to be in violation of church doctrine. It really is astonishing how forward looking the Lutheran Jesus really was, isn’t it? He even went as far as to preach that its a sin to sue your religiously affiliated employer for discrimination.

In the interests of balance, I should note that there’s a catch, though, a caveat if you will: you are only barred from suing the church if you’re a minister. Heavens to Betsy! How will Christianity survive this legal loophole that’s clearly wide enough to drive a coven of witches though? Simple. In John Roberts’ America, we’re all Lutheran ministers!

“The question whether an employee is a minister is itself religious in nature, and the answer will vary widely,” he wrote. “Judicial attempts to fashion a civil definition of ‘minister’ through a bright-line test or multifactor analysis risk disadvantaging those religious groups whose beliefs, practices and membership are outside of the ‘mainstream’ or unpalatable to some.”

In a second concurrence, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., joined by Justice Elena Kagan, wrote that it would be a mistake to focus on ministers, a title he said was generally used by Protestant denominations and “rarely if ever” by Roman Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus or Buddhists. Nor, Justice Alito added, should the concept of ordination be at the center of the analysis.

Rather, he wrote, the exception “should apply to any ‘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.”

So now we have a Supreme Court ruling  that effectively expands the extent to which an organization that claims to be religiously affiliated can step outside the norms that society has imposed upon secular employers, dangerously expanding a precedent that has seen, among other things, the rise of a poorly regulated daycare industry that escapes minimal standards of safety and qualifications by claiming religious exemption (when Jesus is taking care of your kids, what could possibly go wrong?).

So welcome the the new America, where the church and Wall Street both enjoy sovereign immunity.

Big business and religious hucksters own the place. The rest of us are just guests here.


This was Jerry Sandusky’s mistake. He should have started a religion where he would be involved with troubled kids and . . . oh, wait.

@Dodgerblue: since paterno and sandusky endorsed santorum, when will the taint of sandusky soil santorum?


And for working the words “taint” and “Santorum” into one sentence you win a sword of hobgoblin slaying +2.

This line by Roberts in the opinion was funny, though (in terms of judicial humor):

“But a church’s selection of its ministers is unlike an individual’s ingestion of peyote.”

@Dodgerblue: +1
@jwmcsame: +2


It’s justice Robert’s way of saying that the government is permitted to prohibit a centuries old religious ceremony that involves the ingestion of peyote, but is not allowed to prohibit a St. Paul’s Cathedral from firing its gift shop cashier if it learns that he’s gay.

@Serolf Divad: That is very clear, not that it makes any sense on its merits.

In other pastoral news, the local Metro-plex media has been vibrating over Pastor Ed and Lisa Young’s 24 hr. sex-a-thon on the roof of their Grapevine church. Streaming Live.

@texrednface: Ah. The classic definition of “ministering.” Also, of “missionary.”

As you may know, the Catholic Church has what are called “extraordinary ministers,” lay people who are charged with taking communion to shut ins and reading the Gospel to them. They also function as unofficial eyes and ears of the parish as regards the welfare of its elderly or ill members.

Let’s say an extraordinary minister is attacked and harmed by a person who the minister took communion to. Under today’s decision: (a) is the extraordinary minister a “minister” and (b) could the extraordinary minister bring a negligence action against the parish for being assigned to take communion to a violent creep?

Small World Dept: The niece of a Mormon guy I know is married to Matt Romney.

tj/I just learned that military recruiters have been going to an Indian boarding school to check students out. One girl is taken out every Thursday night for drills. Also, the tradition of troubled youths sleeping over at the coach’s house and going on non-school sanctioned, small group road trips is alive and well out here.

@matador1015: @redmanlaw:
Pastor Ed says his wife is an “extraordinary good lay”minister.

My reaction to this story was “if you lay down with dogs, don’t be surprised when you get up with fleas.” The most shocking part to me was that it’s Lutherans. I had the impression they were nicer than this.

You really have to admire the morality of religious folk.

@karen marie has her eyes tight shut: There are different types of Lutheran–sort of like American Baptist and Southern Baptist. This group is Missouri Synod, which is very conservative and fundamentalist.

@Mistress Cynica: As opposed to lapsed Lutherans whose Eugene church now says “We welcome all God’s children to worship with us, regardless of sexual orientation or identity” on its homepage.

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