As the U.S. Supreme Court opens its October 2011 term, there is intense focus on several high-profile cases and questions the justices are likely to tackle later, including those involving affirmative action, health-care reform and immigration policy. However, according to Notre Dame Law School Professor Rick Garnett, the court is already set to hear, during this first week of the new term, one of the most important church-state cases in decades (Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC).
“The case involves the ‘ministerial exception’ to employment-discrimination laws,” Garnett says. “This exception prevents courts from second-guessing employment decisions made by religious employers regarding ‘ministerial’ employees. Although the Supreme Court has never squarely addressed this exception, it is a crucial doctrine for protecting religious freedom and the separation of church and state.”