March 10, 2023
On March 10, 2023, an amicus brief was filed on behalf of EPPC Scholar Rachel N. Morrison in Faith Bible Chapel International v. Tucker, urging the Supreme Court to hear a case involving First Amendment protections for religious organizations. The First Amendment’s “ministerial exception” requires the government to stay out of employment disputes involving employees holding certain key roles at religious organizations.
In this case, the Tenth Circuit held that a jury would have to decide whether a chaplain who led chapel services, taught in the Bible department, and provided spiritual guidance and counseling to students at a Christian school run by a church was a religious leader, qualifying the religious school for protection under the ministerial exception. As the brief explains, the court’s holding would expose religious organizations “to unconstitutional government intervention into their employment decisions through investigation and litigation.”
The brief was filed by Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP on behalf of EPPC Scholar Rachel Morrison, a former attorney at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and an expert in religious nondiscrimination, and former EEOC General Counsel Sharon Fast Gustafson. The EEOC is the federal agency responsible for preventing and remedying unlawful employment discrimination, and investigates charges of employment discrimination against a wide range of employers, including religious organizations.
The brief explains “how the Tenth Circuit’s holding invites EEOC intrusion into religious matters and threatens to erode the First Amendment protections of religious organizations.” Relying on Morrison’s and Gustafson’s knowledge of the EEOC and its practices, the brief provides “a unique perspective on how EEOC investigations are likely to affect religious employers and force small religious organizations to choose between compliance and financial ruin.”
Urging the Supreme Court to hear the case, the brief concludes: “If allowed to stand, the Tenth Circuit’s holding places religious employers, particularly small or minority organizations, in the EEOC’s crosshairs. EEOC investigation of employment-discrimination charges that the ministerial exception would otherwise bar is ‘inherently coercive,’ even if the employer is ultimately vindicated.”