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News Posted on February 5, 2013

Professor Brownstein Comments for Media on Religious Discrimination Suit

Professor Alan Brownstein commented for the Ventura Star on the case of a Christian school in Thousand Oaks, California that fired two employees for refusing to provide a statement of faith and references from a pastor.  The two teachers threatened legal action, and the school, which is incorporated as a for-profit entity, responded by suing in U.S. District court, claiming that the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, which prohibits religious discrimination in employment with exemptions for non-profit religious organizations, is unconstitutional when used to restrict a for-profit religious school's hiring practices.

Professor Brownstein said the case represents "kind of a gray area." Under accepted Supreme Court authority, federal courts are not constitutionally required to carve out exemptions for religious individuals or institutions from neutral civil rights laws that apply to everyone, but a U.S. Supreme Court decision identified a ministerial exception that prohibits the government from interfering with a congregation's decision to pick a minister, rabbi, or imam. The extent to which a religious school teacher who is not a member of the clergy falls within that exception remains unclear, particularly in the case of a for-profit institution.

Professor Brownstein, a nationally recognized Constitutional Law scholar, teaches Constitutional Law, Law and Religion, and Torts at UC Davis School of Law, where he holds the Boochever and Bird Endowed Chair for the Study and Teaching of Freedom and Equality.

Ventura Star