US Supreme Court rules it won’t decide what is religious activity or not

The US Supreme Court has given a ruling important for upholding religious freedom when it stated that it ‘would be “constitutionally troublesome” for the court to attempt to decide what sort of activity is religious and what is not.’

This Supreme Court ruling was in response to employees of World Vision, a Christian development agency, disputing their dismissal from employment because they no longer believed in the divinity of Christ. The sacked employees claimed that World Vision was not a religious organisation.

First Things reports:

‘The majority opinion refused to address certain thorny questions, such as whether or not World Vision’s humanitarian work is an inherently religious activity. Judge O’Scannlain’s opinion said that it would be “constitutionally troublesome” for the court to attempt to decide what sort of activity is religious and what is not. When the employees alleged that World Vision is not a religious group because it offers aid to people regardless of their own religion, O’Scannalin chose to accept World Vision’s own assertion that “providing humanitarian aid to all in need, regardless of religious belief, is a tenet of its faith.”

Protect the Pope comment: This is an important decision for religious freedom in the US because it upholds the rights of Churches and religious organisations to maintain that adherence to doctrines is an essential condition of employment. It’s ludicrous for a Catholic school, university or charity to continue to employee a member of staff who rejects the doctrines and discipline of the Church. For example, a teacher of RE in a Catholic school who divorces and re-marries should either resign or be sacked for not upholding the teaching of the Church.

3 comments to US Supreme Court rules it won’t decide what is religious activity or not

  • Rob


    An interesting view. I see the decision as diluting protection for the big religions. To me it seems to be saying that an organisation is religious simply because it says it is. Do you really want Catholicism and Pastafarianism to be equally protected by law?

    • Deacon Nick

      Rob, you raise an interesting question – just because a group says it’s a religious group does that automatically mean that it is recognized as a religious group? What criteria should be used to judge if a body is an authentic religious group or someone taking the mick of religion?

      • Rob

        I expect the the Court would also find it “constitutionally troublesome” to start adjudicating what is and what is not a real religion. If they want to aviod the issue they have to take people’s word for it – if they say it is religion then it is.

        I don’t know of any real criteria that could be used to distinguish a real religion from a non-religion. You can’t use age of belief or number of adherants because even the world’s large religions were small and new once. We might be able to discount pastaferianism fairly easily because it is a self-confessed parody, but it is only one end of the spectrum. What about Scientology? or Jedi-ism (which some people adopt to take the mick, but a few – mainly single men- do treat seriously). What about humanism (certainly a religion in some ways but in others emphatically not)? or Budism (which many people regard as a religion but in many ways is not becuase many budists have no belief in a supreme power)?

        Personally, I think that religious freedoms should be treated merely as a species of broader freedoms of conscience and treating it as a separte right only causes difficulties conflicts and unfairnesses. The problem with explicitly religious rights in a non-religious country is that you are asking people to respect something that they at worse are hostile to and and best ignorant of. Better, I think to protect religious freedoms under general freedoms of conscince and expression becuase these are things that more people will be willing to grant you because they are more likely to value those same rights themselves.

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