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Posted March 28, 2011

Laycock to Argue Religious Freedom Case Before Supreme Court

Laycock

Professor Douglas Laycock will represent a religious school before the U.S. Supreme Court in a First Amendment case scheduled for the October 2011 term.

The Supreme Court today agreed to hear Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The case centers on whether the school can be sued for employment discrimination for its dismissal of a teacher, or whether it is protected from such lawsuits by the First Amendment.

A teacher at the school had been on disability leave for narcolepsy, and was fired for insubordination after attempting to report to work in the middle of the school year against the school's wishes, according to the school's petition for certiorari. The teacher subsequently sued the school.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the school’s First Amendment rights as a religious organization did not protect the school from the lawsuit, as the teacher was primarily concerned with secular instruction.

Laycock disputes this ruling in a release from the Becket Fund, a Washington, D.C.-based public interest law firm also representing the school. The courts of appeals are agreed that a minister could not sue in such circumstances; the question is whether the teacher is a minister for this purpose.

“She taught the religion class. She led the prayers. She led the devotionals, which are acts of worship. She was a commissioned minister teaching religion and leading worship. The fact that she also taught math and reading doesn’t change any of that,” Laycock said. 

More information about the case can be found from the Becket Fund website, the ABA Journal and on SCOTUSBlog.

The court has not yet set a date for arguments. The case will be Laycock's fourth appearance before the Supreme Court.