Outside the Law: Cheryl Perich and the First Amendment

There’s nothing quite like a First Amendment dispute to illuminate the subtleties of interpreting separation of church and state.

By Elissa Lerner

Last week, the Supreme Court ruled for the first time to uphold a forty year-old practice known as the “ministerial exception” in the case of Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School vs. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In Hosanna-Tabor, Cheryl Perich, a teacher who mostly taught secular subjects but also religion and occasionally led prayers, was fired after taking a leave of absence to receive treatment for narcolepsy. She threatened to sue the school for violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). A federal appeals court concluded that since her primary duties were secular in nature, she was therefore not a minister and could sue under ADA. However, the Supreme Court, in its first ministerial exception case, unanimously decided to overturn the decision, ruling that the question of who is a minister could not be “resolved by a stopwatch.” For the government to interfere with a church’s firing process “intrudes upon more than a mere employment decision,” wrote Chief Justice Roberts. “Such action interferes with the internal governance of the church, depriving the church control over the selection of those who will personify its beliefs.” Continue Reading →

The Dream of Full Unity: The Catholic Church Invites Anglicans to Come On Over

by Elissa Lerner

After so much fanfare surrounding the surprise election of Archbishop Timothy Dolan to the presidency of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) this past fall, or even the Pope’s recent blessing of Facebook, perhaps the greatest shock in the Catholic world is the near silence regarding the three bishops, seven priests, and three hundred members of six congregations that have become ordained and opted into new Ordinariates – subsections of the Catholic Church for disaffected Anglicans. These conversions, all occurring in England in the past few weeks, are directly in response to the Anglican Church’s move to ordain women priests.

Sound familiar?

That’s because a little more than a year ago, the Catholic Church specifically invited disaffected Anglicans to move, causing shockwaves at least through the Internet, if not the world. At the time, few could decipher what the invitation entailed. The October 20, 2009 move was generally thought to address the concerns of conservative Anglicans who oppose the increasing acceptance of the ordination of women and open homosexuals to the priesthood and episcopate. Both issues have caused splintering within the Anglican Communion and debates within the Catholic Church. Continue Reading →

Imagination Standing in for Belief

by Elissa Lerner

If you walk into the Gottesman Exhibition Hall at the New York Public Library right now, you can’t help but notice a wave of warm, damp air. In an exhibition that could easily have been expanded to fill the more heavily trafficked halls of museums like the Met, the New York Public Library has dug through its archives and pulled out an awe-inspiring collection of the most awe-inspired books in the world: rare copies of the holy texts of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. But a larger space for Three Faiths (free, now through February 27th) would have ruined the atmosphere; book reading, or book gazing in this context, is a cozy and leisurely activity, far from the crowds of Museum Mile.

Highlights from the exhibit (and there are many) include a Quran from Istanbul dating to 1103 with clearly identifiable human figures and faces, which became increasingly rare in Quranic art. Another gem is a Samaritan Bible from 1232 written in Paleo-Hebrew script, which some trace to descendants of the northern kingdom of Israel. (Judah, the southern kingdom, adopted Aramaic script, creating a visual and literary break with the other tribes.) Yet perhaps the most remarkable text is not text at all, but the art accompanying a small copy of the Gospels from Ge’ez, Ethiopia, dating to the 15th century. The book is open to a portrait of a Madonna and Child that initially resembles a Byzantine style, until you can’t help but notice the bright orange, yellow and green fabrics (European holy colors are red and blue), and the brown skin of the holy family. Continue Reading →

Scripture from Narnia

Elissa Lerner writes at The New Yorker Book Bench blog:

When was the last time you read the Bible? According to the Pew Forum, about thirty-seven per cent of Americans say they read the Bible at least once a week. According to the introduction of the “C.S. Lewis Bible,” an edition of the New Revised Standard Version published by HarperCollins, this book is for them, and for all other regular readers of the scriptures. To dispel any confusion, yes, this is the Bible, complete with crinkly, ready-to-tear paper; and no, it does not contain any previously undiscovered works of C.S. Lewis. The edition is generously sprinkled with the writer’s quips, essays, and correspondence offering spiritual insight. But for the heathens, pagans, and general non-Bible-studying set, there is still plenty to glean.

Continue reading here. Continue Reading →