483 U.S. 327 (1987), 86-179, Corporation of the Presiding Bishop of the Church of

Docket NºNo. 86-179
Citation483 U.S. 327, 107 S.Ct. 2862, 97 L.Ed.2d 273, 55 U.S.L.W. 5005
Party NameCorporation of the Presiding Bishop of the Church of
Case DateJune 24, 1987
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Page 327

483 U.S. 327 (1987)

107 S.Ct. 2862, 97 L.Ed.2d 273, 55 U.S.L.W. 5005

Corporation of the Presiding Bishop of the Church of

No. 86-179

United States Supreme Court

June 24, 1987

Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints v. Amos

Argued March 31, 1987

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE

DISTRICT OF UTAH

Syllabus

Appellee Mayson, who had been employed at a nonprofit facility, open to the public, that was run by religious entities associated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church), was discharged because he failed to qualify for a certificate that he was a member of the Church and eligible to attend its temples. He, with other individuals purporting to represent a class, brought an action in Federal District Court, alleging religious discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The defendants moved to dismiss on the ground that they were shielded from liability under § 702 of the Act, which exempts religious organizations from Title VII's prohibition of religious discrimination in employment. The plaintiffs contended that, if § 702 was construed to allow religious employers to discriminate on religious grounds in hiring for nonreligious jobs, it violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Finding that Mayson's case involved nonreligious activities, the court held that, under the test set out in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602, § 702 was unconstitutional as applied to secular activity because it had the primary effect of advancing religion.

Held: Applying § 702's exemption to religious organizations' secular activities does not violate the Establishment Clause. There is ample room under that Clause for benevolent neutrality which will permit religious exercise to exist without sponsorship and without interference. Section 702's exemption satisfies the first requirement of the three-part Lemon test that the challenged law serve a "secular legislative purpose." This requirement is aimed at preventing the relevant governmental decisionmaker from abandoning neutrality and acting with the intent of promoting a particular point of view in religious matters. It is a permissible legislative purpose (as here) to alleviate significant governmental interference with the ability of religious organizations to define and carry out their religious missions. Section 702 also satisfies Lemon's

Page 328

second requirement that the challenged law have a principal or primary effect that neither advances nor inhibits religion. A law is not unconstitutional simply because it allows churches to advance religion, which is their very purpose. For a law to have forbidden "effects," the Government itself must have advanced religion through its own activities and influence. The District Court's reliance on the facts that § 702 singles out religious entities for a benefit, and is unsupported by long historical tradition, is unpersuasive. Moreover, there is no merit to the contention that § 702 offends equal protection principles by giving less protection to religious employers' employees than to secular employers' employees, and thus must be strictly scrutinized. Where, as here, a statute does not discriminate among religions and, instead, is neutral on its face and motivated by a permissible purpose of limiting governmental interference with the exercise of religion, the proper inquiry is whether Congress has chosen a rational classification to further a legitimate end. As applied to nonprofit activities of religious employers, § 702 is rationally related to the legitimate purpose of alleviating significant governmental interference with the ability of religious organizations to define and carry out their religious missions. The third part of the Lemon test is also satisfied, since § 702 does not impermissibly entangle [107 S.Ct. 2865] church and state. Rather, it effects a more complete separation of the two. Pp. 334-340.

Reversed and remanded.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and POWELL, STEVENS, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post p. 340. BLACKMUN, J., post p. 346, and O'CONNOR, J., post p. 346, filed opinions concurring in the judgment.

Page 329

WHITE, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

Section 702 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 78 Stat. 255, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-1, exempts religious organizations from Title VII's prohibition against discrimination in employment on the basis of religion.1 The question presented

Page 330

is whether applying the § 702 exemption to the secular nonprofit activities of religious organizations violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The District Court held that it does, and these cases are here on direct appeal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1252.2 We reverse.

I

The Deseret Gymnasium (Gymnasium) in Salt Lake City, Utah, is a nonprofit facility, open to the public, run by the Corporation of the Presiding Bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (CPB), and the Corporation of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (COP). The CPB and the COP are religious entities associated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church), an unincorporated religious association sometimes called the Mormon or LDS Church.3

Appellee Mayson worked at the Gymnasium for some 16 years as an assistant building engineer and then as building engineer. He was discharged in 1981 because he failed to qualify for a temple recommend, that is, a certificate that he is a member of the Church and eligible to attend its temples.4

Page 331

Mayson and others purporting to represent a class of plaintiffs brought an action against the CPB and the COP alleging, among other things, discrimination on the basis of religion in violation of § 703 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2.5 The defendants moved to dismiss this claim on the ground that § 702 [107 S.Ct. 2866] shields them from liability. The plaintiffs contended that, if construed to allow religious employers to discriminate on religious grounds in hiring for nonreligious jobs, § 702 violates the Establishment Clause.

The District Court first considered whether the facts of these cases require a decision on the plaintiffs' constitutional argument. Starting from the premise that the religious activities of religious employers can permissibly be exempted under § 702, the court developed a three-part test to determine whether an activity is religious.6 Applying this test to

Page 332

Mayson's situation, the court found: first, that the Gymnasium is intimately connected to the Church financially and in matters of management; second, that there is no clear connection between the primary function which the Gymnasium performs and the religious beliefs and tenets of the Mormon Church or church administration;7 and third, that none of Mayson's duties at the Gymnasium are "even tangentially related to any conceivable religious belief or ritual of the Mormon Church or church administration," 594 F.Supp. 791, 802 (Utah 1984). The court concluded that Mayson's case involves nonreligious activity.8

The court next considered the plaintiffs' constitutional challenge to § 702. Applying the three-part test set out in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971), the court first held that § 702 has the permissible secular purpose of

assuring that the government remains neutral, and does not meddle in religious affairs by interfering with the decisionmaking process in religions. . . .

594 F. Supp, at 812.9

Page 333

The court concluded, [107 S.Ct. 2867] however, that § 702 fails the second part of the Lemon test because the provision has the primary effect of advancing religion.10 Among the considerations mentioned by the court were: that § 702 singles out religious entities for a benefit, rather than benefiting a broad grouping of which religious organizations are only a part;11 that § 702 is not supported by long historical tradition;12 and that § 702 burdens the free exercise rights of employees of religious institutions who work in nonreligious jobs. Finding that § 702 impermissibly sponsors religious organizations by granting them "an exclusive authorization to engage in conduct which can directly and immediately advance religious tenets and practices," id. at 825, the court declared the statute unconstitutional as applied to secular activity. The court entered summary judgment in favor of Mayson pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b), and ordered him reinstated with backpay.13 Subsequently, the court vacated its judgment

Page 334

so that the United States could intervene to defend the constitutionality of § 702. After further briefing and argument, the court affirmed its prior determination and reentered a final judgment for Mayson.

II

This Court has long recognized that the government may (and sometimes must) accommodate religious practices, and that it may do so without violating the Establishment Clause.

Hobbie v. Unemployment Appeals Comm'n of Fla., 480 U.S. 136, 144-145 (1987) (footnote omitted). It is well established, too, that

[t]he limits of permissible state accommodation to religion are by no means coextensive with the noninterference mandated by the Free Exercise Clause.

Walz v. Tax Comm'n, 397 U.S. 664, 673 (1970). There is ample room under the Establishment Clause for "benevolent [107 S.Ct. 2868] neutrality which will permit religious exercise to exist without sponsorship and without interference." Id. at 669. At some point, accommodation may devolve into "an unlawful

Page 335

fostering of religion," Hobbie, supra, at 145, but these are not such cases, in our view.

The private appellants contend that we should not apply the three-part Lemon approach, which is assertedly unsuited to...

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