EEOC v. Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School, Michigan

Image: EEOC v. Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School, Michigan

Supreme Court rules unanimously for Becket Fund in “most important religious liberty cases in a half century.” – WSJ

Hosanna-Tabor operates a K-8 school founded on biblical principles.  Cheryl Perich was a commissioned minister in the Church who taught fourth grade, taught religion, and led worship services.  She was dismissed for insubordination and disruptive conduct and threatening to sue the Church, all in violation of church teachings.  The Church and its denomination have long taught that disputes over fitness for ministry must be resolved within its denomination.

Perich claims the school retaliated against her for threatening to file a discrimination claim.  The Church argues that forcing it to retain Perich against its will, or forcing it to pay large sums of money to get rid of her, would be an unconstitutional restriction on its right to choose its religious leaders.

The lower courts are unanimously agreed that ministers cannot sue their churches in disputes over qualifications, job performance, or rules for ministry—a rule known as the “ministerial exception.”  The federal trial court applied the ministerial exception and ruled for the Church.  But the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held for Perich, ruling that she was just a fourth-grade teacher and not really a minister.  The school then retained the Becket Fund to seek certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case because there was a difference of opinion among the federal courts of appeals about which church employees count as ministers.

Perich and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have now escalated the dispute, arguing that there should be no ministerial exception and that any minister — even a priest, a rabbi, or a pastor of a congregation — should be able to sue the church that employs him.  This would be a revolution in church-state relations.

On January 11, 2012, the government lost 9-nothing as the Court unanimously rejected its narrow view of religious liberty as “extreme,” “untenable” and “remarkable.”

The unanimous decision adopted the Becket Fund’s arguments, saying that religious groups should be free from government interference when they choose their leaders.

The Court rejected the government’s extremely narrow understanding of the constitutional protection for religious liberty, stating: “We cannot accept the remarkable view that the Religion Clauses have nothing to say about a religious organization’s freedom to select its own ministers.”


For more information, or to arrange an interview with one of the attorneys, please contact Emily Hardman, Communications Director, at or call 202.349.7224.


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Press Release (January 11, 2012) – Supreme Court Rules Unanimously for Becket Fund

Media Fact Sheet


Post-decision press:

1-20-2012, A Victory for Civil Society, Philanthropy Daily, Scott Walker

1/19/2012, Is the “War on Religion” a Myth?, Thomas S. Kidd, Patheos

1/17/2012, Supreme Court Sends Clear Message on Religion, Hannah Smith, The Deseret News

1/15/2012, U.S. Supreme Court Sides with Supreme Court, Pat Murphy, Observer & Eccentric

EDITORIAL: 1/13/2012, Supreme Court got it right on church hiring, The Los Angeles Times

EDITORIAL: 1/13/2012, Justices deliver victory for religious freedom, Chicago Sun-Times

1/13/2012, Supreme Court’s “Ministerial Exception” Ruling, Bob Adelmann, The New American

1/13/2012, Hosanna in the Supreme, Kathryn Jean Lopez, National Review Online

1/13/2012, Court Says Churches Can Choose Leaders, North Carolina Family Policy Council

EDITORIAL: 1/12/2012, Supreme Court’s Historic but Unfinished Ruling for Religious Liberty, The Christian Science Monitor

1/12/2012, Supreme Court Get it Right on Religion, Jill Carroll, Houston Chronicle

1/12/2012, Supremes unanimously reject government role in choosing ministers, Ken Klukowski, The Washington Examiner

1/12/2012, Supreme Court Issues Landmark Ruling for Religious Freedom, Dave Bohon, The New American

1/12/2012, Religious Liberty 9, President Obama 0, Mark L. Rienzi, National Catholic Register

1/12/2012, Hosannas for the Court, Review & Outlook, Wall Street Journal

1/12/2012, U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of Redford Township church firing, Niraj Warikoo, Detroit Free Press

1/12/2012, Hosanna-Tabor vs. EEOC, Michael Sean Winters, National Catholic Reporter

1/12/2012, My Take: Huge Win For Religious Liberty at the Supreme Court, Douglas Laycock,

1/12/2012, What Comes After Hosanna-Tabor, Matthew J. Franck, First Things

1/11/2012, Religious Groups Greet Ruling With Satisfaction, John Cushman, The New York Times

1/11/2012, Hosanna-Tabor ruling a win for religious freedom, Richard W. Garnett, USA Today

1/11/2012, High Court Ruling Landmark For Religion, Valerie Richardson, Washington Times

RADIO: 1/11/2012, Justices Rule that Ministers Exempt from Anti-Bias Laws, NPR, All Things Considered

1/11/2012, Supreme Court Backs Church in Landmark Religious Liberty Case, Ariane de Vogue, ABC News

1/11/2012, Major Victory for Religious Liberty Against Obama Administration Attack, Ed Whelan, National Review Online

1/11/2012, Supreme Court Upholds Ministerial Exception To Bar Teacher’s ADA Claim, Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

1/11/2012, A Win for Religious Freedom, Richard Garnett, National Review Online

1/11/2012, Unanimous Court Finds for Court in EEOC Fight, Tony Mauro, Original Source: The National Law Journal

1/11/2012, Supreme Court rejects Obama administration arguments in ‘most important’ religious freedom case, Michael De Groote, Deseret News

1/11/2011, Landmark: Supreme Court sides with churches in ‘ministerial exception’ employment case, Michael Foust, Baptist Press

1/11/2011, Supreme Court Unanimously Protects Church Hiring Decisions, Emily Belz, World Magazine

1/11/2011, Supreme Court Unanimously Back Hosanna-Tabor Church, Decides in Favor of Religious Liberty, Joan Frawley Desmond, The National Catholic Register

1/11/2011, Supreme Court Decision in Hosanna-Tabor a Major Win for Religious Freedom, Thomas Messner, The Americano

1/11/2012, Supreme Court unanimously rejects government oversight of churches, Michelle Bauman, Catholic News Agency

1/11/2012, Churches Win Major Victory at Supreme Court, Karla Dial, Citizen Link

1/11/2012, Supreme Court Upholds Church’s Religious Liberty in Unanimous Decision, Stephanie Samuel, The Christian Post

1/11/2012, More on Hosanna Tabor, Mirror of Justice

1/11/2012, SCOTUS Unanimous for Religious Freedom, Elizabeth Scalia, The Anchoress

1/11/2012, Unanimous Supreme Court Ruling Supports Hosanna-Tabor, Paula Schlueter Ross, Reporter

1/11/2012, Major Victory for Religious Liberty, Major Defeat for Obama, Campus Notes, The Cardinal Newman Society

1/11/2012, Opinion Recap: A Solid “Ministerial Exception”, Lyle Denniston, SCOTUSblog

1/11/2012, Church Wins Firing Case at Supreme Court, Ted Olson, Christianity Today

Post-argument press:

12-16-2011, Defending the Rights of Religious Expression for Everyone — From Anglicans to Zoroastrians, Thomas L. McDonald, National Catholic Register

10-24-2011 Hosanna-Tabor Church v. EEOC – Post-Argument SCOTUScast (The Federalist Society: Mark Rienzi)

10-21-2011 Freedom, Scheedom (The Christian Post: Chuck Coloson)

10-20-2011 Supreme Court hears case on religious freedom (Reporter: David Strand)

10-18-2011 Work, Pray, Sue (Wall Street Journal) 

10-17 2011 The WSJ Nails It on Hosanna-Tabor ( The National Review: Richard W. Garnett)

10-11-2011 A Close Call for the ‘Ministerial Exception’ ( Los Angeles Times)

10-07-2011  Supreme Court: Ministerial Exception ( PBS Religion and Ethics Newsweekly: Kim Lawton) 

10-05-2011 Supreme Court: What’s More Important than Church Doctrine? (Christianity Today: Ted Olsen)

10-05-2011 Transcript of Oral Argument in H-T, and Some Thoughts (Mirror of Justice)

10-05-2011 Supreme Court hears arguments in important church-state case (Baptist Standard: Bob Allen)

10-05-2011 Supreme Court justices question Obama administration’s religious freedom arguments (Deseret News: Michael DeGroote)

10-05-2011 Supreme Court Asked To Exempt Churches From Employee Discrimination Lawsuits (Huffington Post: Mike Sacks)

10-07-2011 Oral Argument in the Hosanna-Tabor Religious Freedom Case (Volokh Conspiracy: Ilya Somin)

10-08-2011 2012 Politics on Docket for High Court (Politico: Edward Isaac-Dovere)

10-10-2011 Religious Liberty and the Ministerial Exception (Public Discourse: Justin Dyer)

10-07-2011 Supreme Court: Ministerial Exception (PBS: Kim Lawton)

07-02-2011 Case of Sleepy Lutheran Heading to Supreme Court ( John Smith)

07-05-2011 Ministerial Murkiness: Biggest Religion Case in 20 Years? (Christianity Today: Ken Walker)

08-16-2011 Religion and the Cult of Tolerance (Wall Street Journal: William McGurn)

03-31-2011 Churches in Court: The Legal Status of Religious Organizations in Civil Lawsuits (Pew Research Center: Legal Report)

09-24-2011 ‘Most Important’ Religious Freedom Case (The Deseret News: Michael De Groote)

09-30-2011 Should Religious Institutions Follow Anti-Discrimination Laws? Supreme Court Decides (Christian Post: Gina E. Ryder)

10-01-2011 In New Term, Supreme Court Shifts Focus to Crime and First Amendment (New York Times: Adam Liptak)

10-01-2011 Broadcasting case watched in new Court term (First Amendment Center)

10-03-2011 Court Case Puts Focus on Parochial-School Teachers (Education Week: Mark Walsh)

10-03-2011 Red Mass Marks New Supreme Court Term; Key First Amendment Case Ahead (National Catholic Register: Joan Frawley Desmond)


04-25-2011 Hosanna-Tabor case to test our church-state divide (USA Today: Richard W. Garnett)

03-28-2011 The Most Important Religious-Freedom Case in 20 Years? (The National Review: Richard Garnett)

08-16-2011 Obama DOJ Picks a Fight Against Religious Freedom (The National Review: Ed Whelan)

09-26-2011 Obama Administration Attacks Religious Freedom and Separation of Church and State ( Hans Bader)

09-27-2011 Supreme Court Preview: What Is In Store for October Term 2011? (The Federalist Society: Mark Rienzi) Mark Rienzi speaks about EEOC v. Hosanna- Tabor 56 minutes into the discussion.

09- 28-2011 Court Should Reaffirm Vitality of Religious Liberties in ‘Hosanna-Tabor’ (National Law Journal: Megan Brown and Justin Heminger)

09-29-2011 High Court Set to Hear Religious Liberty Case (Deseret News: Hannah Smith)

09-30-2011 What’s at Stake for Religious Liberty in the Hosanna-Tabor Case (National Review Online: Ed Whelan)

10-03-2011 In Hosanna-Tabor, government should butt out (USA Today: Thomas Kidd)

10-03-2011 Is the Pope Catholic? (National Review Online: Carrie Severino)

10-03-2011 Two Ways of Thinking about Religious Freedom (National Review Online: Richard W. Garnett)

10-03-2011 The Supreme Court and the ‘ministerial exception’ (Christian Science Monitor: Editorial)

10-04-2011 Religious Freedom Is Not Just for Churches (Heritage Foundation: Ryan Messmore)

10-05-2011 Opposing view: Government shouldn’t pick ministers (USA Today: Luke Goodrich)

10-05-2011 Washington Wants a Say Over Your Minister (Wall Street Journal: Michael McConnell)

10-05-2011 Theology up for debate at SCOTUS? (Washington Post: William Mumma)


03-28-2011 Here we go! The Court grants cert. in the ministerial-exception case (Mirror of Justice)

03-28-2011 Supreme Court Will Decide Scope of Ministerial Exception to Antidiscrimintation Law (The Volokh Conspiracy: Eugene Volokh)

09-30-2011 Laycock to Argue Religious Employment Discrimination Case Before U.S. Supreme Court (University of Virginia Law School blog)

09-30-2011 Supreme Court to Consider Whether Churches Can Hire, Fire Without Government Interference (Beliefnet: Rob Kerby)

09-30-2011 Obama Justice Department Wants to Eliminate the Ministerial Exception (UC Hastings’ “The Faculty Lounge”)

09-30-2011 Secularism in Action – In the Supreme Court (Archdiocese of New York)

09-30-2011 Major Religion Case Ushers in SCOTUS Term (Wall Street Journal Law Blog: Nathan Koppel)

09-30-2011 Argument preview: Faith, teaching, and the Constitution (SCOTUSblog: Lyle Denniston)

09-30-2011 Can Churches Discriminate on the Basis of Religion? (Ricochet: Adam Freedman)

10-03-2011 The Court’s Upcoming Religious Freedom vs. Antidiscrimination Law Case (Volokh Conspiracy: Eugene Volokh)

10-03-2011 Supreme Court Won’t Hear World Vision Hiring Case (Christianity Today: Ted Olsen)

10-04-2011 Ministerial Exception and Minority Religions (Patheos: Jason Pitzl-Waters)

10-04-2011 Hosanna Hearing Tomorrow – A Non-Lawyer’s POV (Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty: Don Byrd)

10-05-2011 Michael McConnell on Hosanna-Tabor (National Review Online: Ed Whelan)