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High court gives churches latitude in hiring, firing

Discrimination law not in force for ministers

WASHINGTON - In what may be its most significant religious liberty decision in two decades, the Supreme Court yesterday for the first time recognized a “ministerial exception’’ to employment discrimination laws, saying that churches and other religious groups must be free to choose and dismiss their leaders without government interference.

“The interest of society in the enforcement of employment discrimination statutes is undoubtedly important,’’ Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote in a decision that was surprising in both its sweep and its unanimity. “But so, too, is the interest of religious groups in choosing who will preach their beliefs, teach their faith, and carry out their mission.’’

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