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DC Christian schools need to be dubbing a lot of ministerial staff

While we're talkin' law (see previous post), here's a bit of catch-up on the religion law news:

The Washington, DC, city council has eliminated the religious exemption from its statute on non-discrimination for "sexual orientation or gender identity" in educational institutions.

This could be a very big deal indeed, if they got away with it. The idea seems to be to force all Christian schools in DC, including (especially?) K-12 Christian schools, to hire homosexuals and transgenders despite their religious objections.

I really do not see how this can survive court challenge. As the Liberty Counsel points out here, the Hosanna-Tabor precedent gives wide latitude to churches and explicitly religious organizations in designating staff as ministerial and making conduct and creedal requirements for staff.

Moreover, since the Liberty Counsel wrote that letter (just last week, in fact) a Court of Appeals ruling has applied Hosanna-Tabor to a case where a staff member for Intervarsity was fired over marital issues. The court ruled in favor of Intervarsity.

Laws mandating non-discrimination on the basis of sexual behavior and/or transgender insanity are wicked enough. Laws mandating non-discrimination even on the basis of "mere" orientation (which is never what such laws mean) would also, if they existed, be intrusive, unjustified, and a refusal to recognize the many ways in which even "mere" orientation is often relevant. (Cue 200-comment discussion in the comments thread. "But Lydia, I can't understand why this should be! If Bob is just quietly gay, how can that possibly have any impact upon his suitability for a job as a car salesman?" "Lydia, you sound like a homophobe. We Christians should really be leaning on the orientation-act distinction. It's wrong to discriminate on the basis of orientation alone." Etc., etc. But all of this is moot anyway, because that isn't what these laws say anyway.)

It is a good thing if at least religious institutions can be exempt from all such laws. DC Christian schools need to prepare to use Hosanna-Tabor to defend themselves if the city attempts to mandate that they hire homosexuals and transgenders. The first step is explicitly to designate all of their staff as ministerial and to make this believable through staff titles and duties. This should include janitors. Have your janitor lead a Bible study as a regular part of his work duties, for example. It shouldn't be too hard for a Christian school to get even a tiny bit creative with this, at least if the school really does have a pervasive Christian identity. DC Christian schools should also be talking with their lawyers about any additional ways in which they can be prepared to defend their stance on these issues.

I don't know if the DC council is planning to try to get Hosanna-Tabor overturned or if this is an empty gesture or what. Maybe they're just trying to scare Christian schools into capitulating because of the fear of legal hassle. Needless to say, Christian schools shouldn't back down. For once we have a court precedent on our side; we should milk it for all it's worth.

Comments (5)

If they don't fight now they will regret it later. "First they came for the Jews..." hope they have the courage of their convictions.

My guess based on some comments I have read is that at least some schools plan to carry on business as usual and hope that this is an empty gesture by the city council. I salute the Liberty Counsel, however, for doing more than that--for acting preemptively to make it clear that this is illegitimate legislation and that (as I read them) their clients do not consider themselves bound by it.

I hope you saw this latest news on the $3.1 million in foundation money pouring into universities, legal groups and activist groups to counter religious freedom exemptions: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/are-wealthy-us-foundations-paying-to-suppress-religious-freedom-53587

Wish I had the funding to track all the local activist groups and the foundations backing them. It's far more cost effective to lobby various city councils and build strength there before aiming for the state and national legislatures.

Wow, no, I hadn't seen that. And gee, great, behind it is a native of my very own town. Not that I didn't already know Stryker was a committed leftist, but I didn't realize just how effective he is.

Sometimes I'm amazed Hosanna-Tabor went the way it did. Let's hope it survives the legal challenges because it seems like one of the better tools for churches to resist the kultursmog.

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