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U.S. Supreme Court

Corp. of Presiding Bishop v. Amos, 483 U.S. 327 (1987)

Corporation of the Presiding Bishop of the Church of

Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints v. Amos

No. 86-179

Argued March 31, 1987

Decided June 24, 1987*

483 U.S. 327


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 483 U. S. 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 church and state. Rather, it effects a more complete separation of the two. Pp. 483 U. S. 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. 483 U. S. 340. BLACKMUN, J., post p. 483 U. S. 346, and O'CONNOR, J., post p. 483 U. S. 346, filed opinions concurring in the judgment.

Page 483 U. S. 329

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