Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton joined an Oklahoma-led multistate amicus brief urging an en banc rehearing of a decision by the Denver-based U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals that threatens the freedom of religious groups to select their own leaders and operate free from the entanglements of government overregulation. In that case, a faith-based K-12 religious school fired a chaplain who sued to challenge his termination. Typically, a court will decide preliminarily, and as a matter of law, whether a religious organization can be sued in such a case, or whether the “ministerial exception” applies and grants it discretion to choose its spiritual leadership. Here, the court held that the jury should decide that question.
Without a rehearing, the Tenth Circuit panel’s “opinion . . . will cause severe and sustained entanglement between religious institutions and government, as well as infringement on the religious liberty rights of countless individuals and organizations,” the brief says. “[J]uries will now be tasked with analyzing significant religious questions, courts will be forced to mediate discovery disputes probing religious doctrine and religious intent, and religious adherents and organizations will have no recourse against a wayward trial court decision that threatens to invade some of the most critical aspects of religious practice—the choice of leadership. The panel’s decision was a radical departure from existing case law and Supreme Court precedent.”
The case is Tucker v. Faith Bible Chapel International (9th Cir., No. 20-1230). Read the amicus brief here.