Attorney General Mark Brnovich announced he is defending religious liberty and the First Amendment in three separate lawsuits, all involving private religious organizations and their authority to hire individuals who support their core mission and beliefs. The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has long held that the ministerial exception prevents courts from adjudicating employment-related lawsuits brought by ministerial employees.
“Freedom of religion is among the most revered and highly protected liberties in America,” said Attorney General Mark Brnovich. “Private religious organizations have the right to select and maintain employees who will promote their faith and support their mission.”
Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission v. Woods
Attorney General Brnovich joined a 17-state coalition to support the ability of religious nonprofits and churches to hire employees who share their core beliefs. The case arose out of Washington State when a ministry called Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission was sued by a job candidate who did not get hired because he opposed the nonprofit’s religious beliefs. The coalition is urging SCOTUS to reverse a misguided Washington Supreme Court decision that held the First Amendment extended no protection to Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission in this case.
Gordon College v. DeWeese-Boyd
Attorney General Brnovich joined a 20-state coalition at SCOTUS supporting the First Amendment’s ministerial exception and urging SCOTUS to overturn a Massachusetts court decision. Gordon College is a private religious college in Massachusetts. In 2017, Professor Margaret DeWeese-Boyd sued Gordon College, alleging she was unlawfully retaliated against for her vocal opposition to the College’s beliefs/practices/policies by denying her promotion to full professorship. The provost said the promotion was denied because of DeWeese-Boyd’s performance as a professor. Gordon requires all faculty to subscribe to their evangelical Christian Statement of Faith, and abide by their Bible-based statement on life and conduct. In their brief, the attorneys general argue that the ministerial exception applies in this case and that it guarantees private religious organizations’ “freedom from governmental oversight when selecting and managing certain key employees.”
Belya v. Kapral
Attorney General Brnovich is supporting the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in a defamation lawsuit. The church is defending itself against a defamation claim brought by a priest who was removed of his duties for allegedly forging the documents approving his promotion from priest to bishop. The multistate coalition argues in its brief at the Second Circuit Court of Appeals that churches, synagogues, and mosques must be free to communicate about internal ministerial decisions without fear that secular courts will punish them or otherwise interfere with their decision-making.