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Hiring rights

And more news briefs

Issue: "Steve Jobs 1955-2011," Oct. 22, 2011

President Barack Obama's administration has sat on the fence regarding the liberty of religious institutions to hire and fire based on religious beliefs. One sign that it's coming off the fence came in the Supreme Court building on Oct. 5 when Leondra Kruger of the Justice Department argued that religious institutions should be treated just like other institutions in matters of hiring.

Kruger's argument shocked the justices in what was already a blockbuster religious freedom case, Hosanna-Tabor v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (see "Firing lines," Oct. 8). "This is extraordinary-extraordinary," Justice Antonin Scalia told Kruger during oral arguments. "There in black and white in the Constitution are special protections for religion." One of the liberal justices jumped in on Scalia's side: "I too find this amazing," said Justice Elena Kagan.

The facts of the case seemed to agitate Justice Anthony Kennedy, often a swing vote on the court. Cheryl Perich was a church-commissioned teacher at Hosanna-Tabor, a church and school in Redford, Mich., affiliated with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS). When a doctor diagnosed her with narcolepsy, a sleep disorder that may leave sufferers falling asleep on the job, she took a leave of absence. When she asked to return to work, school officials said she wasn't ready. When she said she would sue, the church withdrew her commission and fired her for going to courts instead of the church's established tribunals, as LCMS teaching requires.

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The Supreme Court has never before ruled on who falls under the "ministerial exception," a court-created law protecting religious institutions from federal oversight, and all of the justices seemed troubled that courts were deciding who counted as a minister and who didn't. Several liberal and conservative justices treated the government's position against the ministerial exception as radical, but Kennedy commented, "She was fired simply for asking for a hearing." Douglas Laycock, the church's attorney, responded, "She could have had a hearing in the synod."

Decision stands

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of a case concerning World Vision's policy to hire Christians only, so the 2010 ruling of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in favor of World Vision stands. The high court's decision means that World Vision can continue requiring its employees to agree to a statement of faith. World Vision fired three employees for not agreeing to the statement of faith: The three sued, arguing that the organization was humanitarian, not religious, but lower courts said World Vision qualifies as a religious organization. "Our Christian faith has been the foundation of our work since the organization was established in 1950, and our hiring policy is vital to the integrity of our mission to serve the poor as followers of Jesus Christ," said World Vision president Richard Stearns, in a statement after the Supreme Court's decision.

Occupiers

It started out as little more than street theater, but throughout the first week of October the Occupy Wall Street movement grew into what The New Republic called "a younger, dreadlocked version of the Tea Party."

With declared complaints against corporations that ranged from the sound ("They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give Executives exorbitant bonuses") to the misdirected ("They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education"), nearly 700 protesters were arrested on Oct. 2 as they shut down a lane of traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge.

As liberal journalists gave Occupy Wall Street favorable publicity, an Oct. 5 Rasmussen poll found that 33 percent of Americans have a favorable view of the protesters, 27 percent hold an unfavorable view, and 40 percent have no opinion.

Off the farm

Hundreds of children avoided Alabama public schools and acres of crops went unpicked after an Alabama judge on Sept. 28 upheld most of the state's new immigration law. The law-considered the strictest clampdown on illegal immigration in the nation-requires public schools to record the immigration status of new students, allows police to check immigration status during routine traffic stops, and requires employers to verify the legal status of their laborers.

Many apparently illegal laborers fled, leaving many Alabama farmers shorthanded during the crucial harvest season. Chad Smith-a tomato farmer near Chandler Mountain-said he would normally use 12 trucks in harvesting his fields, but only had the workers for three. Smith estimated his family farm could lose up to $150,000 this season because of a lack of laborers. Many others fear losing their crops or their farms.

Show scrubbed

The Playboy Club only survived until its third episode after NBC canceled the new show amid weak ratings and intense criticism of the prime-time series, which was based on the Playboy nightclubs Hugh Hefner started in the 1960s. It marks the first cancellation of the fall season and a victory for family groups like the Parents Television Council (PTC) that aggressively protested it.

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