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May 13, 2020

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Conservative bias or true religious freedom? Supreme Court positioned to make a decision based on Conservation majority.
Photo credit: J.Scott Applewhite/AP

Supreme Court Weighs Whether Religious Schools Can Fire Lay Workers via NPR

The Supreme Court's conservative majority signaled Wednesday that it is on the verge of carving out a giant exception to the nation's fair employment laws.

Before the court were two cases, both involving fifth grade teachers at parochial schools in California. One, a veteran of 16 years teaching at her school, contends her firing was a case of age discrimination. The other said she was fired after she told her superior that she had breast cancer and would need some time off.

Both schools denied the allegations but maintain that regardless, the fair employment laws do not apply to their lay teachers because they all teach religion for 40 minutes a day.

You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Parent who is in heaven.

-Matthew 5:14-16; Common English Bible, adapted

My elementary aged nibbling recently went through an essential rite of passage in our culture: they watched The Princess Bride for the first time. My nephew loved Fezzick’s incessant rhyming and my niece wondered why it took Inigo so long to avenge his father. And they were introduced--sort of--to a very useful word: “Inconceivable!” Second only to “My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die,” one of the most classic lines from the film is another of Inigo’s: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

We need Inigo Montoya to help conservatives in this country get a grip on their usage of the phrase “religious liberty.” They keep using that phrase. But I’m positive it doesn’t mean what they want us to believe it means.

Religious liberty is meant to make us a freer and more just society. It’s supposed to protect and defend diversity and liberty. It’s supposed to be a shield to protect those on the margins from the coercion and bullying of those in power. From attempting to prevent people from getting medically necessary procedures and medications to denying jobs and education to people in queer families, the right is trying to use religious liberty as a weapon to enforce its claims to a free pass to harm others. By any decent measure of politics, that’s bad. By any fair understanding of our laws, it’s awful.

And it’s a terrible way to practice Christianity.

The Supreme Court may make a bad decision led by the conservative majority. It may say that these schools had the religious liberty to fire these teachers for what would otherwise be illegal reasons. But Scripture reminds us, “everything is permissible, but not everything builds others up.” (1 Corinthians 10:23) Even if by some perversion of justice, the concept of religious liberty is distorted further by this case, Christians should not take advantage of it to engage in unethical, unjust behavior. If it is only a law that prevents a parochial school from firing a teacher for having cancer, what kind of witness to the world is that? How is our lamp shining out before the world if we commit age discrimination and defend that as our right? We must be known in the world for our good deeds--our works of justice and compassion, our advocacy for those at the margins of society, our denunciation of the powers of sin and death as made manifest in white supremacy and heteropatriarchy--not for our complicity in discrimination and injustice.
While the religious right is trying to subvert our understanding of religious liberty, many organizations across the country are trying to defend it. Whether it’s the ACLU or Americans United for the Separation of Church and State or another group, consider finding a way to support an organization fighting for religious freedom in a way that matters to you.

Our Beloved Friend
Outside the Domination System
May your Holy Name be honored
by the way we live our lives.
Your Beloved Community come.
Guide us to:
Walk your walk
Talk your talk
Sit your Silence
Inside the court room, on the streets, in the jail houses
As they are on the margins of resistance.
Give us this day everything we need.
Forgive us our wrongs
as we forgive those who have wronged us.
Do not bring us to hard testing,
but keep us safe from the Evil One.
For Thine is:
the Beloved Community,
the power and the glory,
forever and ever. Amen.

(Open Door Community Atlanta)
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