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No Church Autonomy Defense To Catholic Organization’s Sexual Orientation Discrimination


In Doe v. Catholic Relief Services, (D MD, Aug. 3, 2022), a Maryland federal district court granted summary judgment in favor of plaintiff who was denied spousal health insurance coverage for his same-sex husband. Rejecting a church-autonomy defense, the court said in part:

CRS insists that any judicial inquiry into this case inevitably requires an inquiry into matters of Catholic faith and doctrine. This is not so; this case concerns a social service organization’s employment benefit decisions regarding a data analyst and does not involve CRS’s spiritual or ministerial functions.

The court held that Catholic Relief Services violated Title VII, and that the exemption in Title VII for religious organizations only applies to discrimination by them on the basis of religion. It also held that RFRA does not provide a defense because it applies only to claims against the government. The court also found no First Amendment violation, saying in part:

Our Constitution’s solicitousness of religious exercise is not carte blanche for any religious institution wishing to place itself beyond the reach of any neutral and generally applicable law. This court need not engage in a strict scrutiny analysis that would apply if a truly comparable secular institution were being treated favorably compared to CRS.

The court went on to find violations of the federal and state Equal Pay Acts, and ordered certification to the state court of a question of coverage by Maryland’s Fair Employment Practices Act.


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