I recently explained the importance of the Supreme Court’s decision affirming a church’s right to control whom it employs as a teacher in its religious school in a post you can read here. Unfortunately, the vital protection this case provides for religious freedom has largely been lost on the mainstream media. Instead, they’ve often focused on how this decision may affect teachers at religious schools. One AP article went so far as to assert that a teacher of Jewish Studies at a Jewish school should be seen as a “teacher whose subject is religion, not a religious teacher.” In the context of a religious school, this is completely at odds with the concept of religious freedom.
The Court of Appeals in the Hosanna-Tabor case made a similar argument (which was thankfully rejected by the Supreme Court). It opined that the teacher who sued the religious school wasn’t a minister because she spent six hours a day teaching secular subjects like math, social studies, and music. Only an hour or so was spent on exclusively religious instruction. The fact that the teacher also lead weekly chapel services, taught a 30-minute religion class four days per week, lead prayer three times per day, and taught a morning devotional was considered to be largely irrelevant. So the school was prohibited from firing the teacher, even though she violated church teachings regarding mediation of disputes among believers.
The appeals court (and the Associated Press) failed to recognize something even Christians sometimes forget – our biblical worldview and Christian principles affect all aspects of our lives. That certainly includes how we teach our children all subjects – even those that don’t appear to be “religious” – such as music and social studies. It even includes math, as demonstrated by the great mathematicians Sir Isaac Newton and Rene Descartes. And it certainly includes religious classes like Jewish Studies at a religious school that has as its purpose inculcating the religious theology and values of a particular religion.
Saying the Hosanna-Tabor case undermines the rights of teachers is like saying the desegregation case Brown v. Board of Education wrongly ignored the rights of teachers who wanted to only teach certain kids. The larger, more important, principle of elimination of racism – or protection of religious freedom in this case – is being missed. Thankfully, all nine Justices of the Supreme Court aren’t influenced by the misguided opinions of the Associated Press.