I’ve reported several times on a case in Maryland where a nurse at a Catholic nursing home sued her employer because it required her to dress in a way that conforms to Catholic teaching. Last September the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to hear this case, which is referred to as Kennedy v. Villa St. Catherine. The federal appellate court took the case early in the litigation process because the trial court’s ruling resulted in the ironic determination that St. Catherine’s could have fired Ms. Kennedy for not being Catholic, but could not first ask her to simply conform her dress to Catholic teaching in an attempt to save her job. This created a huge loophole in the broad exception Congress made to Title VII that allows religious organizations the freedom to employ only those individuals that believe and act in accordance with the ministry’s teachings.
The great news is the Fourth Circuit issued an order on September 14, 2011 which affirms that St. Catherine and other ministries have the right to employ only those who agree with their religious teachings and apply them to their daily lives. The Court said a contrary result would be “nonsensical,” reasoning that ”Kennedy admits that St. Catherine could fire her for her religion without any recourse. But, by first asking if she would consider changing her clothing before terminating her—i.e., by giving her the opportunity to keep her job—St. Catherine would suddenly open itself up to the strictures of Title VII. Such an approach cannot be squared with Congress’ desire in the first instance to permit a cooperative, accommodative approach to workplace discrimination.”
This is a fantastic result for religious freedom and church autonomy - the right of churches to operate without interference from the government.
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