Paul Greenberg

The teacher who had challenged her church (and the Constitution) asserted she couldn't be fired because an antidiscrimination law protected her job. And it wasn't as if she were a minister acting under the church's authority and discipline. She claimed she wasn't exercising any religious authority as a teacher at a church school.

Even though she had undergone religious training for her post of "lay teacher," had agreed to be a "called teacher," and was commissioned as a minister by her church. And, oh yes, she'd also claimed a ministerial housing allowance on her taxes.

But, the teacher explained, she led chapel services and taught religion classes only sometimes. The rest of the time she taught secular subjects like math. She estimated that the "religious" part of her day took up only 45 minutes.

How modern. As if someone who's supposed to be an exemplar of her faith need be religious only part-time. Chief Justice John Roberts, speaking for a unanimous court, put it well: Being a religious leader is not a matter "that can be resolved by a stopwatch."

Next we'll be told that a judge is a judge only while sitting on the bench. Or that an officer and gentleman need be one only in uniform.

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, for following the simple yet profound language of the First Amendment. Its words have yet to be bettered by those who would add all kinds of footnotes, exceptions, interpretations and complications to the text.

Naturally, the teacher was supported by this administration. This administration also seems to believe that under the Constitution the president of the United States can make recess appointments even if Congress isn't in recess at the time. He'll decide when Congress is in session, thank you. So much for the separation of powers, whether legislative and executive or, in this latest landmark case, church and state.

This welcome decision is but the latest round in a continuing case that might rightly be styled Obama v. Constitution.

The strangest objection to the Supreme Court's unanimous decision in this case came from an organization with a noble name, Americans United for Separation of Church and State. That's precisely the principle this ruling exemplified.

Maybe this group assumes that the purpose of the First Amendment is only to prevent the church from interfering with the state. But the Amendment is just as concerned with preventing the state from interfering with the church. And with its right to decide who will teach its faith.

The good people at Americans United for Separation of Church and State might want to go back and reread the words of the First Amendment. Those words never fail to clarify thought. And elevate the spirit.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.