Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court denied review in an important religious freedom case called Spencer v. World Vision.
World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organization that was sued by two former employees who alleged they had been fired for religious reasons.
In general, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits religious-based employment decisions. However, Title VII expressly protects the freedom of religious organizations to staff on a religious basis.
The question in the World Vision case involved the scope of the Title VII religious staffing freedom: Does that freedom apply to independent religious charities, such as World Vision, or only to traditional houses of worship, such as churches, synagogues, and similar groups and groups closely affiliated with them?
Earlier this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit decided that World Vision qualified for the Title VII religious staffing freedom. That decision stands as a strong victory for religious freedom.
One of the major issues in religious freedom today is whether religious freedom protections should be very narrow and limited or whether they should be more comprehensive. Heritage research fellow Ryan Messmore argues, in this recent paper, that religious freedom should be considered more broadly, that it is not just for churches and not just for overtly religious activities such as praying and preaching.
The World Vision case certainly supports the broader view, and it marks a significant win for the many religious organizations in this country that might not be formally affiliated with a church or denominational body but nevertheless seek to maintain a strong religious identity, community, and sense of mission.