More antidiscrimination law vs. freedom of religion

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on June 14, 2006

Matthew J. Franck has a brief note over on National Review's "Bench Memos" blog on another case that pitted civil rights law against freedom of religion. The good news: freedom of religion won.

In that light, here’s a good-news story: last week a panel of the Third Circuit held that Ursuline Academy, a girls’ Catholic pre-K-12 school in Wilmington, Delaware, was protected by its religious freedom from a lawsuit challenging its firing of a teacher who publicly stated her support of abortion rights as signatory to a pro-Roe newspaper ad (see here for PDF version of the ruling). In the most interesting aspect of the opinion by Judge Jane Roth (the widow of the late Sen. Bill Roth who recently took senior judge status), the panel held that the court itself would trample on the First Amendment’s protection of religious freedom if it were to attempt to assess how much of an affront to Catholic doctrine was committed by, say, a male teacher who opposed the war in Iraq, as compared to the female plaintiff who opposed Catholic teaching on abortion. To engage in such inquiries “would be meddling in matters related to a religious organization’s ability to define the parameters of what constitutes orthodoxy.”

This case involved a potential conflict between First Amendment religious freedom and federal civil rights law (a real potential despite legislative language and history largely protective of religious institutions). Much worse would be the situation for churches and other such institutions if the Supreme Court held for a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, which would set up the conflict on the same plane of constitutional principles.

It's nice to see that Judge Roth recognized that the court had no role in determining what constitutes religious orthodoxy and what does not.

That statement reminded me of the Casey Martin v. PGA case in which the Supreme Court took precisely the opposite tack, ruling that walking wasn't an integral part of the professional golf game.

0 comments on “More antidiscrimination law vs. freedom of religion”

  1. I think there was grammar faux pas in the article that is pretty funny.

    "In the most interesting aspect of the opinion by Judge Jane Roth (the widow of the late Sen. Bill Roth who recently took senior judge status),"

    Did she get the new judge status or is "senior judge status" a new term for dying? Maybe it will replace "kick the bucket".

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