EPPC Scholar Files Brief Urging Court to Protect Religious Employers


Published April 22, 2024

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On April 22, 2024, an amicus brief was filed on behalf of EPPC Scholar Rachel N. Morrison in the Seventh Circuit in support of a petition for rehearing en banc in Garrick v. Moody Bible Institute. The case involves whether religious organizations, such as Moody Bible Institute, can immediately appeal church autonomy determinations. A Seventh Circuit panel held that such determinations could not be appealed until after a final decision on the merits, which often requires lengthy and costly discovery and trial.

The brief was filed by Robert Kelner and MaKade Claypool of Covington & Burling LLP on behalf of Morrison, a former attorney at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and former EEOC General Counsel Sharon Fast Gustafson as experts in religion-related employment discrimination. 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 highlighted “how the panel’s erroneous treatment of the church autonomy doctrine will also encourage federal agencies” like the EEOC “to ignore religious freedom protections and insert themselves into religious employment disputes where they have no place.” 

As the brief explained, increased EEOC involvement in religious employment disputes will “immensely burden the limited resources of religious organizations trying to fulfill sincere missions” and “inevitably lead to greater entanglement in religious affairs.” “Under the panel’s erroneous decision, Moody and other religious organizations will not only find inadequate protection in federal court, but they will almost certainly find greater intrusions from an agency already indicating its eagerness to investigate beneath every altar and behind every veil.”

To “protect religious employers in court” and “encourage their continued protection during agency investigations,” the brief urged the court to grant the petition for rehearing en banc, “recognize that church autonomy issues need to be decided first and be made immediately appealable,” and vacate the panel’s decision.


Rachel N. Morrison is a Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, where she directs EPPC’s HHS Accountability Project. An attorney, her legal and policy work focuses on religious liberty, health care rights of conscience, the right to life, nondiscrimination, and civil rights.

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