The high court announced it would not accept a case in which former World Vision employees sued the organization for firing them when it was discovered they did not agree with its doctrinal statement.
The ex-employees appealed to the high court after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld World Vision's right to hire and fire employees based on its religious beliefs in a 2010 ruling. Voting 2-1, the Ninth Circuit panel affirmed that World Vision is a religious organization that qualifies for an exemption from religious job discrimination under the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
The panel, which upheld the opinion of a federal court in the state of Washington, said World Vision did not unlawfully discriminate when it dismissed three employees after it learned they no longer believed in the deity of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity. All three had agreed with World Vision's confession of faith and provided testimonies of their faith in Christ when they were hired.
World Vision President Richard Stearns described the Supreme Court's refusal to reconsider the Ninth Circuit opinion "a major victory for the freedom of all religious organizations to hire employees who share the same faith -- whether Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, or any other religion."
"Our Christian faith has been the foundation of our work since the organization was established in 1950, and our hiring policy is vital to the integrity of our mission to serve the poor as followers of Jesus Christ," he said in a written statement.
The justices' Oct. 3 decision to reject the appeal in Spencer v. World Vision was announced two days before they heard oral arguments in another significant church-state case involving an employment issue.
In that case, the Supreme Court weighed arguments from lawyers representing a Michigan church and the federal government over the "ministerial exception," a long-standing judicial concept that bars the government from using job discrimination laws against the First Amendment rights of churches and other religious bodies in their hiring and firing of ministers. The Department of Justice went so far as to argue the high court should reject totally the "ministerial exception."
The far-reaching constitutional principle in the case -- Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission -- regards whether a religious organization or the government will make the final determination in certain employment decisions by a faith group.
Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.
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