(Washington, DC – January 11, 2012) — Leadership at the American Humanist Association (AHA) expressed disappointment today with the United States Supreme Court’s decision exempting religious employers from anti-discrimination laws. The ruling will allow religious organizations to discriminate against women, racial minorities and the disabled in their employment decisions, even when such bias has no basis in religious doctrine.
“The Supreme Court has agreed to approve systematic religious discrimination with today’s ruling,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “The ruling overlooks the essential concept that no one should be allowed to circumvent the law.”
The AHA’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of the AHA and other allied organizations in the case, Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, urging the Court to apply federal anti-discrimination statutes to all employers.
The case involved a teacher at a religious school who was fired from her job in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act. When she threatened to bring suit under the ADA, which prohibits retaliation for doing so, the school claimed a suit would violate a religious requirement that internal disputes not be brought before courts.
“Today, the Supreme Court has read the First Amendment’s Religions Clauses as giving religious employers a special right to violate the law,” said Bill Burgess, attorney and the AHA’s legal coordinator. “In doing so, it has undermined the principle that we are all, secular and religious alike, equally required to comply with the law. Federal statutes banning employment discrimination embody and protect a critical and hard-won democratic value: equality of opportunity for all Americans. This protection has now been lost by those who work for religious organizations.”
Because the court’s decision emphasized the plaintiff’s status as a minister, there will likely be significant litigation necessary to resolve all the implications of this ruling. Religious employers might be tempted to categorize employees as ministers to exempt themselves from anti-discrimination laws,” Burgess said.
The Appignani Humanist Legal Center is a project of the American Humanist Association that provides legal assistance to defend the constitutional rights of secular Americans by challenging violations of the separation of church and state guaranteed by the Establishment Clause of the Constitution and seeking equal rights for humanists, atheists and other freethinkers.
The American Humanist Association (www.americanhumanist.org) advocates for the rights and viewpoints of humanists. Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., its work is extended through more than 100 local chapters and affiliates across America.
Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism, affirms our responsibility to lead ethical lives of value to self and humanity.