When church & state meet in court

Came across an interesting new report from the Pew Forum on court cases involving the relationship of church & state.

As they explain it:

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These and related lawsuits raise complex constitutional questions that have been troubling American courts for more than a century: Do the First Amendment’s religion clauses – which guarantee religious liberty and prohibit all laws “respecting the establishment of religion” – bestow a unique legal status on religious organizations that puts some of their decisions and actions beyond the reach of civil laws? To put it another way, are legal disputes involving churches and other religious institutions constitutionally different from those involving their secular counterparts, and if so, how?

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I like the way the Pew people frame how religious cases are related and may be different in some ways from other cases.

They look at four different cases that illustrate issues/conflicts that often come up: property disputes; employment of clergy; the treatment or discipline of members; and how religious organizations deal with employee misconduct.

As Pew explains:

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Although the four types of cases raise different legal issues, court rulings on all these matters have been consistent regarding one important principle: The government must not regulate religious entities in any way that would require a judge or other government official to interpret religious doctrine or rule on theological matters. At times, this “hands-off” principle might require courts to treat religious organizations differently from their secular counterparts.

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Pew looks at one case where a Lutheran school dismissed a teacher who missed a lot of time because of treatment for narcolepsy. The school might have a problem because of the Americans with Disabilities Act, but it claims a “ministerial exception” for the way it handled an employee.

Interesting stuff.