Legal fight over fired school chaplain draws lots of attention

Legal fight over fired school chaplain draws lots of attention

Legal fight over fired school chaplain draws lots of attention

A religious liberty law firm that is defending a church and private school is expressing concern over a legal fight to define “minister” that could go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The case involves Gregory Tucker, who taught at Colorado-based Faith Christian Academy for 14 years and also served as chaplain for students. After teaching a session called “Race and Faith” to address alleged racism among students, some students and parents complained, and Tucker was fired but he filed suit alleging discrimination.

Becket Fund attorney Daniel Blomberg tells AFN the legal argument arose over whether Tucker was employed as a minister, which is the view of Faith Bible Chapel, as defined by court precedent. That employment definition would shield the church from the discrimination suit but the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed in a 2-1 decision.

“When a religious school, or a church or a synagogue, is selecting a religious leader, the government has to stay out of it,” Blomberg argues. “And that includes the courts.”

According to newspaper The Gazette, Faith Bible argued in court that Tucker met the qualification of a minister by serving as school chaplain. The fired employee, however, told the court he had once been informed by the school superintendent he did not qualify for a tax deduction for ministers.

The legal fight over defining a minister host not escaped notice, the Gazette story states, so some groups filed legal briefs in favor of Tucker. Other groups filed briefs on behalf of the school.  

According to Blomberg, the 10th Circuit decision is a ruling that “can’t be allowed to stand” because it affects the freedom of churches to operate without government influence.

“And so, whether it's in this case or another,” the Becket attorney says, “if this rule isn't resolved by the lower courts, it will eventually have to be fixed by the Supreme Court.”