Caroline Mala Corbin (U. of Miami School of Law) has posted The Irony of Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC. Although Corbin addressed this issue last year, this updated article includes Corbin’s reflections post-decision. The abstract follows.
In Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, a schoolteacher sued her employer for retaliating against her in violation of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). The success of her ADA claim turned on whether the Supreme Court thought that she was a minister. If she was not a minister, she would have probably won. After all, the school stated in writing that a main reason for her termination was her threatened lawsuit. But because the Supreme Court decided that she was a minister, and that ministers may not sue their religious employers for discrimination under the ministerial exception, she lost. In fact, neither the Free Exercise Clause nor the Establishment Clause necessitated the ministerial exception. Under Employment Division v. Smith, neutral laws of general applicability do not violate the Free Exercise Clause, and no one disputes that the ADA is a neutral law of general applicability. In attempting to distinguish Smith, the Supreme Court not only created an incoherent free exercise jurisprudence but also ignored Jones v. Wolf, which explicitly rejected blanket deference to religious institutions in matters of internal governance. Jones further recognized that a deference approach may cause more establishment problems than a neutral principles of law approach. Indeed, the irony of the Hosanna-Tabor case is that trying to discern whether the schoolteacher was a minister entangled the Court in religious doctrine more than simply adjudicating her retaliation claim would have.