The chief justice added: “When a minister who has been fired sues her church alleging that her termination was discriminatory, the First Amendment has struck the balance for us. The church must be free to choose who will guide it on its way.”
Notre Dame Law Professor Rick Garnett said the decision was a “resounding win for religious liberty,” and “one of the Court’s most important church-state decisions in decades.”
“This case is highly significant because it reminds us all that the separation of church and state is an important mechanism for protecting the liberty of all – believers and nonbelievers alike,” he said in a statement.
Others saw the ruling as a step backward. The Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State said the decision affirms a right of religious groups to ignore antidiscrimination laws in some cases.
“Clergy who are fired for reasons unrelated to matters of theology – no matter how capricious or venal those reasons may be – have just had the courthouse door slammed in their faces,” Mr. Lynn said in a statement.
The decision stems from a lawsuit filed by Cheryl Perich, a former teacher at the Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School in Redford, Mich. Ms. Perich claimed in her suit that she was fired in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Perich was employed as one of seven teachers at a K-8 school run by the local Lutheran church. The school had roughly 80 students.