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Law School Case Brief

Corp. of Presiding Bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints v. Amos - 483 U.S. 327, 107 S. Ct. 2862 (1987)


The test to determine whether a law violates the Establishment Clause of U.S. Const. amend. I requires first that the law at issue serve a secular legislative purpose. This does not mean that the law's purpose must be unrelated to religion -- that would amount to a requirement that the government show a callous indifference to religious groups, and the Establishment Clause has never been so interpreted. Rather, the "purpose" requirement aims at preventing the relevant governmental decision-maker from abandoning neutrality and acting with the intent of promoting a particular point of view in religious matters.


A building engineer was employed at a nonprofit gymnasium that was operated by nonprofit corporations affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints but was open to the public. The engineer was discharged because he failed to qualify for a "temple recommend" certifying that he was a member of the Church and eligible to attend its temples. The engineer then brought an action against the corporations in the United States District Court for the District of Utah, which action alleged that the corporations had violated W, 42 U.S.C.S. § 2000e-2, by discriminating in employment on the basis of religion. The corporations moved to dismiss the engineer's claim under § 703, on the ground that they were shielded from liability under § 702 of the Act, 42 U.S.C.S. § 2000e-1, which exempted religious organizations from the prohibition of § 703. In denying the motion to dismiss that claim, the District Court determined that the engineer's employment involved nonreligious activity, and held that § 702, as applied to nonreligious activities, has the primary effect of advancing religion and thus violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, since it granted religious organizations an exclusive authorization to engage in conduct which can directly and immediately advance religious tenets and practices. The District Court subsequently entered summary judgment in favor of the engineer and ordered him reinstated with backpay. The employers sought further appellate review.


Did § 702 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment?




On appeal, the United States Supreme Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. The Court held that § 702 did not violate the Establishment Clause as applied to the engineer, since § 702, as extended to nonreligious activities, served the permissible purpose of minimizing governmental interference with the decision-making process in religions, in that it relieved religious organizations of the burden of predicting which of their activities a secular court might consider religious. According to the Court, a law was not invalid simply because it allowed churches to advance religion, where the government itself was not advancing religion through its own activities and influence. Any advancement of religion achieved by the gymnasium cannot fairly be attributed to the government, and § 702 did not impermissibly entangle church and state but rather effectuated a more complete separation of the two.

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