Understanding the Eastside Catholic Situation
The public furor over the firing of an Eastside Catholic High School administrator emphasizes once again the complex interplay and separation between church and state. When considering the issue, keep several legal and Constitutional principles in mind.
First, the Washington Law Against Discrimination does not apply to religious institutions. This is a legislative exemption that is rooted in a number of considerations, including the Washington State Constitution’s guarantee of “absolute freedom” in the practice of religion. The Washington State Supreme Court is currently considering whether that exemption does in fact pass State Constitutional muster in the case of Ockletree v. St. Francis. That decision should be forthcoming within the next few months.
Second, in a recent unanimous decision, Hosanna Tabor v. EEOC, the United States Supreme Court held that civil courts do not have the power to litigate employment decisions between a religious entity and its leaders and administrators. The courts may consider whether Mr. Zmuda is in fact such a leader or administrator, but if he is, then the court system has no jurisdiction over this matter at all.
Third, the religious faithful have every right to examine and question their own leaders and impact consideration of church doctrine and how it is carried out.
Karen Kalzer represents both faith institutions and followers in religious employment disputes and in reaching resolution respectful of their religious rights.