We reported back in June that a preliminary ruling in Kennedy v. Villa St. Catherine eroded the freedom of religious organizations. In an unusual development (and as a result of some good lawyering by St. Catherine’s attorneys), the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to go ahead and review that ruling early. ADF, on behalf of itself and the National Association of Evangelicals, recently filed an amicus brief in the case, urging reversal of the lower court’s dangerous ruling.
In the brief, we explain that the District Court undermined the freedom of religious organizations when it allowed the plaintiff’s religious harassment and retaliation claims against a Catholic institution to go forward. Villa St. Catherine is a Catholic nursing center that the District Court recognized is exempt from the religious discrimination prohibitions of Title VII. Congress wisely included this exemption so that religious organizations can maintain their religious character. This makes constitutional and practical sense. A Jewish ministry to the poor should not have to adjust its workplace requirements so that a Muslim would feel comfortable accomplishing its religious goals, and vice versa. When government entangles itself in the employment decisions of religious organizations, it violates the First Amendment’s protection of religious freedom.
The District Court’s order results in the nonsensical legal reality that St. Catherine could have simply fired Kennedy because she was not Catholic, but could not require her to dress and act in a way that does not conflict with the Catholic beliefs of the institution and the people it serves. This makes an end run around Congress’ well-conceived efforts to protect religious organizations from liability when they ensure their employees’ religious beliefs comply with their own. More significantly, it violates the religious freedom of religious organizations by exposing them to liability for simply teaching employees their doctrine, and requiring them to act in compliance with it while at work.
Hopefully, the Fourth Circuit will agree and undo the lower court’s unfortunate limitation of religious liberty.
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