The Supreme Court decided on June 12 not to hear the claim of a Christian school in Colorado that it cannot be sued for firing a teacher who accused the school, parents, and students of racism.
The school argued that because it is a religious institution it is beyond the reach of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The familiar amendment begins, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
The case involves the so-called ministerial exception that the Supreme Court recognized in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Employment Opportunity Division (2012). The exception prevents employees who carry out religious functions from suing church bodies.
The school’s petition (pdf) stated that the “internal dispute is no business of the judiciary or civil authorities. It is not a proper subject for depositions and discovery, cross-examinations, lawyers’ arguments, or jury deliberations. The Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment categorically bar judicial inquiry and interference in religious leadership disputes.”
The Supreme Court affirmed the ministerial exception in July 2020 when it ruled 7–2 in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru that the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause exempts religious organizations from employment discrimination lawsuits, as The Epoch Times reported at the time.
On June 12, the court dismissed the petition in the case known as Faith Bible Chapel International (FBCI) v. Tucker (court file 22-741), in an unsigned order. No justices dissented. The court did not explain its decision.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit previously ruled against the school.
In 2018, Gregory Tucker, at the time the school chaplain, angered school officials, students, and their parents at Faith Bible Chapel by lecturing them on “systemic bias” and on their “white privilege,” two controversial concepts associated with the radical “anti-racism” movement.
The movement campaigns against so-called hate speech and presses for, among other things, racial sensitivity training in government and corporations in an effort to eradicate what it claims is white privilege. Critics decry such “woke” training as forced ideological reeducation.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) President and CEO Rachel Laser, whose group represented Tucker in the legal proceeding, hailed the Supreme Court’s new ruling.
“Religious freedom is not a license to harm others or prevent people from seeking justice in courts of law. These cases are far from over, but Gregg Tucker and Father Alexander Belya now have a chance to vindicate their rights,” Laser said in a statement. Belya is involved in a related case.
“We are facing an aggressive movement working to recast religious freedom into a weapon that would allow religious institutions to discriminate without limit or consequence,” Laser said.
“AU believes religious freedom should be a shield, not a sword. Today, the Court let that principle stand.”
Tucker had claimed that the FBCI fired him because he expressed opposition to racial discrimination and harassment directed against him, as a father of a black daughter, and against minority students at the school. Tucker organized a symposium “to discuss racist behavior within the school with the intention of eliminating it.”
Tucker claimed in court papers that his employment ended in February 2018 because he organized the event. The school caved into pressure from “students and parents who were guilty of the most racially incendiary behavior within the school [and] were offended by the implied message that they were guilty of racism.”
The school falsely claimed he was guilty of gross insubordination, a complaint stated.
In response, the school argued in court papers that Tucker behaved badly.
“His message accused Faith Christian students and parents of racism, which the message defined in terms of white privilege and systemic bias,” the school’s petition stated. “Many students and parents complained to school leadership that Tucker’s message was political rather than biblical.”
FBCI concluded that Tucker’s message “was not consistent with church teaching.”
The school met with Tucker who disagreed with its interpretation of The Bible. Tucker wrote a letter to the school community about his views and began openly expressing disagreement with school leadership.
The school relieved him of his role in planning and speaking at chapel services and eventually, he stopped working there, the petition stated.
Daniel Blomberg, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented the school, said in February that the Constitution prevents the government from interfering in the religious school’s policymaking.
“Churches should be free to pick their own chaplains and lead their own chapel services without judges or juries second-guessing them,” Blomberg told The Epoch Times.
“If it takes years of litigation and lawyers’ fees just to protect that right, then the First Amendment will be a dead letter for most religious groups. They’ll be priced out before the Constitution can ever kick in.”
The Epoch Times reached out to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty for fresh comments on the court’s decision not to hear the case but had not received a reply as of press time.
From The Epoch Times