Religious Liberty on the Docket

Ohio Civil Rights Commission v. Dayton Christian Schools
477 U.S. 619 (1986)

This case falls into the legal category of:

Case Dates:
Monday, 26 March, 1979 - Friday, 27 June, 1986
Facts:

After becoming pregnant in 1979, elementary school teacher Linda Hoskinson was told her contract would not be renewed with the Dayton Christian Schools because of their religious belief that mothers should stay home with their preschool aged children. When Hoskinson hired an attorney, she was immediately terminated for violating a clause in her contract that mandated a “biblical chain of command,” rather than the legal system, be followed to settle internal disputes.  Hoskinson then filed a complaint with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission asserting that Dayton Christian Schools’ non-renewal decision constituted gender discrimination and its termination decision unlawfully penalized her for asserting her rights.

The Commission determined that there was sufficient probable cause to believe that the school had discriminated against Hoskinson based on her sex and retaliated against her for asserting her rights.  The school claimed that the First Amendment prevented the Commission from having jurisdiction.

Dayton Christian Schools appealed, claiming the First Amendment’s separation of church and state clauses prevented the Commission from having jurisdiction over them. The lower court held that the Commission’s investigation violated the school’s First Amendment rights.

The case provoked considerable debate within the ACLU, as two important constitutional principles were in play – equal protection of the law and freedom of religion. Lawrence Herman, an ACLU general counsel at the time, described the challenge of balancing these issues to a Dayton Journal Herald reporter in 1985 this way: “There are those on the [ACLU] board who think that, even if this is a matter of religious doctrine, the interest in equality is too great and the state ought to have a right to enforce its civil rights laws. Others think that if this really is a matter of church doctrine, then that is paramount to any interest the state has in prohibiting discrimination.

In the end, the national ACLU – but not the Ohio ACLU — filed an amicus brief in the appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1986, arguing that the Commission can investigate at least to the extent of determining whether the “biblical chain of command” argument was used as a ploy to hide illegal discrimination.  The Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s decision and declared “the Commission violates no constitutional rights by merely investigating the circumstances of the discharge in this case.”

Decision: http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=us&vol=477&invol=619

Read The Journal Herald article (used with permission from the Dayton Daily News)