In Town of Greece, New York v. Galloway, 134 Supreme Court 1811 (2014), the U.S. Supreme Court decided whether the town of Greece, New York, imposes an impermissible establishment of religion by opening its monthly board meetings with a Christian prayer. The Court held that no violation of the U.S. Constitution was shown.
In Greece, a town of 94,000 in upstate New York, monthly town board meetings begin with an invocation by a local clergyman invited by the town supervisor. “The prayer was intended to place town board members in a solemn and deliberative frame of mind, invoke divine guidance in town affairs, and follow a tradition practiced by Congress and dozens of state legislatures.” Id. at 1816. A minister of any persuasion, even an atheist, could give the invocation, but because nearly all congregations in town are Christian, all of the participating ministers were Christian. The town did not review the prayers in advance or provide guidance about their content. “Typical were invocations that asked the divinity to abide at the meeting and bestow blessings on the community: ‘Lord we ask you to send your spirit of servanthood upon all of us gathered here this evening to do your work for the benefit of all in our community. We ask you to bless our elected and appointed officials so they may deliberate with wisdom and act with courage. Bless the members of our community who come here to speak before the board so they may state their cause with honesty and humility.’” Id. Continue reading
Religious schools periodically decide to expel a student for misconduct in the middle of a school year or to not re-enroll a student for the next school year. Parents and students sometimes respond with the threat of a lawsuit if the student is expelled. Religious schools facing this scenario should realize that they have much greater authority to expel a student than a public school, and, therefore, any such claim can be defeated.
First, the free exercise of religion provisions of the United States and Oregon Constitutions allow religious schools to make these decisions free of court interference if they are based at least in part on religious doctrine. Continue reading
Religious schools and churches periodically terminate or discipline a teacher or other employee who violated tenets of the religion at issue, such as premarital cohabitation. Employers taking such actions have a complete defense to discrimination claims arising from such decisions based on the religion clauses of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the corresponding provisions of the Oregon Constitution.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides, in part, that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Article 1, Section 3 of the Oregon Constitution states: “No law shall in any case whatever control the free exercise, and enjoyment of religious opinions, or interfere with the rights of conscience.” Continue reading
Teachers and other employees of religious schools sometimes sue for discrimination, including claims under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). The law, however, recognizes a ministerial exception to such claims based on the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which states, in relevant part, that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The ministerial exception precludes application of employment discrimination statutes to claims concerning the employment relationship between a religious institution and its ministers. Continue reading