The New Book On Religious Freedom That Defines Religion Down

A distinguished historian of the American founding sees religion as a matter of individual belief rather than communal obligation.

Oxford University Press.

Oxford University Press.

Observation
Sept. 3 2020
About the author

Jeremy Rozansky is a lawyer in Portland, Oregon. He recently completed a clerkship with Judge Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The views expressed here are wholly his own.


This past term, in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, the Supreme Court took up the question of whether the so-called “ministerial exception” applies to teachers of religion at parochial schools. That constitutional doctrine allows for religious organizations to select, supervise, and remove religious leaders—“ministers”—without interference from civil authorities. The teachers at issue in this particular case were not officially reverends, priests, nuns, or rabbis, so the court had to decide whether the exception applied to them even though they lacked formal ordination. In the end, the court ruled that the exception applies. The court reasoned that what ultimately matters under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution is not the religious-school employee’s title or credential, but what the employee does. A person is a “minister” if they lead the organization, conduct worship services or other important rituals, or serve as a “messenger or teacher of the faith.”

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More about: American law, History & Ideas, Religious Freedom