Colorado Christian school seeks broad 10th Circuit ‘ministerial exception’
A U.S. court of appeals panel will review the latest high-profile case on Tuesday to test the limits of an exemption from anti-discrimination laws for religious schools, with a Colorado Christian academy saying it should apply widely to ” teachers, chaplains and other leaders. “
Daniel Blomberg of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents the Faith Christian Academy, to urge the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals Committee that the “ministerial exception” protect the school from allegations by a former corps member professor that he was fired for organizing a service in the chapel focused on the fight against racism.
The exemption case is one of the first to go to a federal appeals court since last July, when the United States Supreme Court in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru stated that it applied broadly to “any employee who heads a religious organization.” . or serves as a messenger or teacher of his faith. “
Weeks earlier, a Denver federal judge said a jury should decide whether the exception applied to Gregory Tucker, who was director of student life at Faith Christian Academy, and dismissed the summary judgment motion of the school in his 2019 trial.
The school, armed with the Supreme Court’s decision in its appeal, is pushing the 10th Circuit to take an even broader view of the exception that encompasses most religious school employees. Leaving it up to a jury to decide whether employees administer the faith properly would violate the rights of schools under the First Amendment to the US Constitution, says Faith Christian.
In a January amicus brief supporting Tucker, the National Women’s Law Center and 37 other advocacy groups, unions and law societies cautioned the court against making it harder for religious school employees to pursue allegations of bias.
“The manipulation of the ministerial exception will deprive more and more employees – such as a receptionist seeking time off because of her disability, a mathematics professor facing racial and sexual harassment, or a janitor who is paid less because of her background. national – crucial civil rights unless the courts carefully frame the exemption, ”the groups wrote.
The Becket Fund did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Bradley Girard of Americans United in Separation of Church and State, who represents Tucker, said the case illustrates “a frightening trend” of religious employers seeking to extend the exemption far beyond their capacity to freely choose the clergy.
“The ministerial exception … was never intended to be a free pass for any religious employer to discriminate against its entire workforce and circumvent civil rights laws,” said declared Girard.
Tucker worked for several years as a science teacher at Faith Christian and, in 2014, was given additional responsibilities as a chaplain, including hosting weekly chapel meetings and meeting with students and priests. parents. He chose the title of “director of student life” because it had no religious connotations, according to documents filed in the case.
Tucker was fired in early 2018 after several students and parents complained about a chapel reunion he had organized to promote racial diversity. He sued the school, alleging racial discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act 1964.
Faith Christian argued that the ministerial exception applied, and Tucker countered that he was not a “minister” because he did not teach religion or guide students in prayer.
U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson, in his June ruling denying the school’s summary judgment, said Tucker’s exact duties and the extent to which they involved the school’s religious mission were in dispute and should be resolved by a jury.
In an October brief, Faith Christian’s parent, Faith Bible Chapel International, told the 10th Circuit that the purpose of the ministerial exception was to protect religious organizations from the scrutiny that accompanies a jury trial.
“If the Faith Bible is correct that the (exception) bars are right in this case, all of this upcoming discovery and litigation rings a bell that cannot be released,” the school’s lawyers wrote.
The 10th Circuit panel includes circuit judges Robert Bacharach, David Ebel and Carolyn McHugh.
The case is Tucker v. Faith Bible Chapel International, U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, # 20-1230.
For Tucker: Bradley Girard of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State
For Faith Bible Chapel: Daniel Blomberg of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty
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