Yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously rejected the Obama administration’s anti-religious and anti-constitutional view that the government can interfere in a religious body’s appointment of ministers including religious teachers.
In the Hosanna-Tabor case, the Supreme Court held that a Lutheran school’s decision to fire an ordained teacher who led prayer activities cannot be trumped by federal penalties for employment discrimination, in contradiction of the views argued by the President’s top solicitor.
The shocking character of the Obama administration’s position in favor of government interference in the selection of ministers has overshadowed the administration’s equally troubling positions that threatened religious education itself, and that would have narrowly defined religion to be an exclusively internal matter.
The Obama administration proposed that the First Amendment’s explicit religious protections should not give special protection to a church’s choice of ministers. Instead it said the government can vaguely “balance” church interests in choosing ministers, against the government’s alleged interests in interfering with that choice.
Amazingly, during oral arguments the Obama administration declared that a church really has no interest in choosing its own school teachers because religious belief is only really protected when it is expressed purely “internally,” whereas school teaching is unprotected because the church decides “to open its doors to the public to provide the  socially beneficial service, of educating children for a fee in compliance with state compulsory education laws.”
In other words, when a group of religious people get together to educate children according to their religious educational viewpoint, they are not engaging in truly protected religious action, but instead they have abandoned the core of their rights by taking their beliefs to the “public,” because they allow other children to attend their classes. If a church goes outside its own four walls, especially to teach children, the Obama administration considers the action to be fundamentally secular and irreligious, such that it doesn’t really “count” under the First Amendment’s religion clauses.
When challenged on its views the Obama Justice Department doubled-down, insisting that “there is a fundamental difference between . . . those who would preach the word to the congregation [and] administer its sacraments, on the one hand, and the more public relationship between a church and a school teacher and others that provide services to the public at large.” The Obama administration made the same distinction in its written brief, asserting that teachers at religious schools “perform a public function: like teachers in public schools, they offer a service necessary to satisfy state compulsory education laws.”
This attitude renders education an inherently secular activity, including a church’s decision to evangelize its kids and others through its own private school, for the mere reason that the government has decided to impose general education requirements (which is the same as the state saying, “becaue I said so”). And the administration’s view also takes religious believers out of the essential constitutional protection afforded to the category of “religion” unless the only thing they do is navel-gaze within the walls of their churches. If they step out into the “public,” whose boundaries the (secularist) government gets to draw, they aren’t really exercising religion anymore.
These are frightening, aggressively secular positions advanced at the high court by President Obama. Not coincidentally, the Obama administration similarly redefined religion into oblivion by declaring that an entity is not “religious” unless it is a church or religious order that primarily hires and serves only its own believers, so that everyone else can be forced to fund abortifacients and contraception.
The threat of a secularist government attacking the effectiveness of religious education, and believers’ ability to influence society at large, is a real one, made demonstrable by the explicit positions taken by our President. Hosanna-Tabor thankfully rejected one part of this threat, but it left several questions to be argued on another day, likely very soon.