How a Recent Supreme Court Ruling Impacts US Hindu Temples
The “ministerial exception” to US employment law likely applies to Hindu temple priests and hired religious teachers when considered as ministers
By Paul Yogananda Desantis
In this article, attorney Paul DeSantis examines in technical detail how the “Hosanna” decision applies to Hindu temples and offers suggestions from his experience on temple management.In January, 2012, the US supreme court issued an important First-Amendment, freedom-of-religion decision that strengthened protections for all churches, temples and other religious institutions. “Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School vs. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission” found in favor of a church in Redford, Michigan, and against its disabled church leader/employee, Cheryl Perich, as well as against the government agency responsible for protecting disabled individuals, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Beyond the issue of disability, the decision has important implications that apply to most religious institutions in the US, including Hindu temples. In brief, any employee who is considered by the organization as a “minister” may be terminated at will without triggering antidiscrimination laws.
The CaseTo decide whether the Church was entitled to the “ministerial exemption” from governmental disability requirements, the Court was required to answer two questions: Was Perich a minister (leader) of the Church? Yes, said all the justices. Perich was a minister/leader of the Church, which justified the Church’s claim for a “ministerial exception” to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulations designed to protect US disabled citizens. The second question was: What type of inquiry should the Court conduct when a religious institution claims a ministerial exception to a governmental regulation? On that question there were three different answers given by the justices, ranging from a court-ordered investigation into the Church’s doctrine, to accepting at face value the claim that the person is a minister.
Why is Hosanna Important?First, it is one of the Court’s rare major Constitutional decisions in which all the justices voted in favor of the outcome, even though the majority and concurring opinions provided different reasons for their outcome. Second, Hosanna provides a carefully reasoned First-Amendment discussion, which displayed sensitivity to the needs of religious institutions to set higher standards of conduct than citizens are required to follow under civil law. One of rules at the heart of the Lutheran Church is the “consensus” requirement, an arrangement which runs counter to common secular democratic principles where only a majority vote is required. Indeed, the US Supreme Court itself works on a majority rule basis. Third, the Hosanna First Amendment ruling applies to US Hindu organizations, giving them additional protection from state interference while performing their religious duties.
Perich taught fourth grade at the Church’s school, led the students in prayer and was expected to “integrate faith into all subjects.” She took courses in Lutheran theology to increase her official status from a “lay” teacher to a “called” teacher. In June, 2004, she suffered from narcolepsy and was unable to work. The Church replaced her. In January, 2005, Perich said she was ready to return to work the following month. The Church administrator said the Church had already hired a lay teacher for the academic year. Further, the administrator did not feel she was well enough to teach again. Perich threatened to sue. The Church then dismissed Perich from her teaching post, an act thought to be within its rights because she was a “called teacher,” considered by the Church as a type of minister, though she was not an ordained minister. By threatening to sue the Church, she had violated the Hosanna church rule that all “ministers” must work with the congregation to achieve consensus on major issues.
In its ruling, the Court accepted the importance of working in consensus within the Church. It also agreed that, according to their doctrine, Perich was (by virtue of her calling) a minister, not a lay employee, even though other teachers in the school were lay employees. They therefore concluded her termination was within the Church’s rights. The Court pointed out, however, that their decision does not necessarily bar other types of lawsuits by a minister, such as for breach of contract or injury.
Minister: Implications of the TermIn my opinion, the most interesting aspect of this case is the concurring opinion of Justices Alita and Kagan who recognized that many religions in the US do not call their leaders “ministers.” They wrote:
“The term minister is commonly used by many Protestant denominations to refer to members of their clergy, but the term is rarely if ever used in this way by Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus or Buddhists. In addition, the concept of ordination as understood by most Christian churches and by Judaism has no clear counterpart in some Christian denominations and some other religions. Because virtually every religion in the world is represented in the population of the United States, it would be a mistake if the term minister or the concept of ordination were viewed as central to the important issue of religious autonomy that is presented in cases like this one. Instead, courts should focus on the function performed by persons who work for religious bodies.
“The First Amendment protects the freedom of religious groups to engage in certain key religious activities, including the conducting of worship services and other religious ceremonies and rituals, as well as the critical process of communicating the faith. Accordingly, religious groups must be free to choose the personnel who are essential to the performance of these functions.
“The ‘ministerial’ exception should be tailored to this purpose. It should apply to any ‘employee’ who leads a religious organization, conducts worship services [clearly including Hindu priests] or important religious ceremonies or rituals, or serves as a messenger or teacher of its faith. If a religious group believes that the ability of such an employee to perform these key functions has been compromised, then the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom protects the group’s right to remove the employee from his or her position.
“What matters in the present case is that Hosanna-Tabor [Church] believes that the religious function that respondent [Perich] performed made it essential that she abide by the doctrine of internal dispute resolution; and the civil courts are in no position to second-guess that assessment. This conclusion rests not on respondent’s ordination status or her formal title, but rather on her functional status as the type of employee that a church must be free to appoint or dismiss in order to exercise the religious liberty that the First Amendment guarantees.”
Applicability to Our Hindu WorldI have personally helped Hindu groups form legal organizations, and assisted with contentious issues between temple managements and their priests. In some respects, the Hosanna decision leaves priests with fewer options in dealing with unfair decisions by a temple board regarding their employment. I would, however, appeal for a more enlightened handling of our temple priests, who, as this decision makes clear, are rightly regarded as ministers.
First, I have always admired the wisdom of Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, founder of this magazine Hinduism Today, in implementing a policy of decision making by consensus, not much different from that of the Hosanna Church: “My devotees abide by ‘consensualocracy.’ All involved in a decision must unanimously agree and obtain the guru’s blessings before proceeding. No votes are taken based on the majority superseding the minority.”
Second, Subramuniyaswami advocated, and I strongly support, the principle that Hindu temples in the US should put themselves under the guidance of a guru or religious leader of their tradition, specifically in times when they are unable to reach consensus on how to proceed.
In the US, the majority of temple property is owned and operated by a nonprofit corporation governed by a board of directors, usually consisting of successful local business people and professionals. Unfortunately, most Hindu temple organizations are not under the direct guidance of a religious leader. For various historical and cultural reasons, temple boards tend to have only modest respect for the priests in their employ. In contrast, in US Christian churches, the priest or minister is held in high regard and is a rightfully respected, influential member of the community.
Rather than take the Hosanna decision as an opportunity to deal less fairly with our priests, I advocate we take this moment to examine our temple management paradigm. Based upon years of experience, I believe that the most enlightened solution for any Hindu temple organization is to seek the guidance of a religious leader associated with the temple’s philosophic orientation. His or her guidance may then be sought when encountering thorny issues dealing with priests, and decisions made in keeping with dharma for the betterment of the community.
(Paul Yogananda DeSantis of Santa Monica, California, holds a J.D. from Georgetown University. Raised a Christian, he converted to Hinduism two decades ago. He has studied and worked with Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami and is active in the Malibu Hindu Temple.)
The delicious, nutritious and medicinal fungi of the forest
By Lakshmi Sridharan, Ph.D, San Jose, California
Mushrooms have been around since life originated on Earth. In fact, much of life on this planet depends on fungi, for they are the great recyclers of the forest, converting fallen plant matter into precious soil. Mushrooms' modern uses are exciting: from those that transform agricultural waste products into inexpensive but strong composite building materials that can be reused as garden mulch, to pesticidal fungi that trick insects into eating them, to mushrooms that can break down the neurotoxins used in nerve gas.
Culturally, fungi have an important history of uses. Pharaohs ate mushrooms as a delicacy. Greeks believed them to be a source of strength. The Chinese regard them as health food. There are over 14,000 types of mushrooms in the world, out of which about 3,000 are edible; and of those 700 have known medicinal properties. Around the world, we feast on fungi for their flavor, texture and nutritional and health benefits.
Mushrooms are fungi that belong to the phylum Basidiomycota. What we call a mushroom is actually the reproductive structure, or the fruiting body, of the fungus. A typical mushroom has an umbrella-shaped cap with a stalk and gills on the underside. Caps vary widely in color and shape.
In nature, mushrooms grow wild on moist, rich soil or on the barks of trees. Mushrooms are mostly aerial except in the case of the exotic truffle, "the diamond of the kitchen," which produces an underground fruiting body. Do not go into nearby woods to collect mushrooms unless you know how to identify edible mushrooms, because a fair number of wild mushrooms are poisonous, some even deadly. The best approach is to go out mushroom hunting with a knowledgeable guide.
Edible mushrooms are readily available at grocery stores, farmers' markets and from mushroom farms. The most popular cultivated edible mushrooms are Agaricus bisporus, including white, crimini and portobello. Portobello are giant--about six inches in diameter--mature crimini mushrooms. Other cultivated species include shiitake, porcini, maitake, hen-of-the-woods, oyster and enoki.
The shiitake, native to China, is known for its healing properties. Aromatic oyster mushrooms grow on fallen, dead hardwood in forests and have a scallop-shaped cap with a delicate, anise-like flavor (these can spread out to 18 inches in diameter, with thick flesh). Cultivated oyster mushroom caps come in a variety of colors: gray, blue, yellow, pink and white. Porcinis, with their earthy, nutty flavor--considered the king of edible mushrooms by the Italians--live in a symbiotic relationship with trees, very common in pine forests and chestnut woods all over the world.
The cheapest mushrooms are white and brown crimini. Truffles are the most expensive; a pound may cost a couple of thousand dollars, and a single truffle may weigh one to three pounds! One can cultivate mushrooms indoors at home, providing the right conditions. Spores and kits to grow mushrooms are commercially available.
Edible mushrooms are extensively used in cooking. You can easily incorporate them in soups, sauces, vegetable medleys, pastas, rice dishes, etc. Clean mushrooms with a soft brush prior to cooking. Never soak them in water; if you must, wipe them with a damp paper towel. Optionally, remove the stalks, which may be used for preparing stocks along with other vegetables. Fresh mushrooms do not last long in a refrigerator. Dried mushrooms can be reconstituted by soaking in hot water for ten minutes. Cook in a heavy skillet on low heat. Herbs and spices may be used to enhance flavor. Food, in addition to being nutritious, should be colorful, flavorful and aromatic.
An Ayurvedic Perspective on Fungi
By Vamadeva Shastri, OMD, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Some countries have historically been avid consumers of mushrooms, while others have avoided them. For example, mushrooms have been popular in continental Europe but were not used by Native Americans. India has generally avoided mushrooms, while nearby China has used them extensively.
Yogic and ayurvedic texts contain little information on fungi. They have tended to classify them as tamasic and not recommended their extensive usage as a food. Ayurveda has recommended mushrooms as a medicine for certain conditions, however, but has not given them as much attention as other types of herbs. This situation is changing: mushrooms are gaining a new place in India's cuisine and in ayurvedic medicine.
The most commonly used Agaric species, or field mushroom (including portobello), is regarded in ayurveda as a nutritive tonic and aphrodisiac (vajikarana), good for reducing pitta and vata doshas but for increasing kapha dosha. It is cooling, moistening, invigorating and gives strength and vitality. It can help improve immunity and longevity, promoting body weight.
Other types of fungi have similar properties, but there are many variations in species that must be considered. Dried mushrooms are better for kapha dosha, cooked into soups and rice dishes. Mushrooms with firmer tissue and less water, such as morel, chanterelle and shiitake, are also better for those of kapha dosha and usually provide better nutrition than the field mushroom for all doshic types. The Chinese reishi mushroom is regarded as excellent for promoting longevity. The Himalayan cordyceps is famous for its healing ability.
Ayurveda has often designated mushrooms as tamasic; they do spoil easily and can be hard to digest, particularly when the agni (digestive fire) is low. Too much of them can increase ama (toxins) in the body and blood, and they should be avoided when there is fever or infection. One should not take an excess of mushrooms, nor recook them or eat them cold. I have found mushrooms to be disturbing to some vata types who have sensitive and nervous digestive systems.
That being said, a little caution is not a rejection altogether. Even though ayurveda regards garlic as tamasic, it also considers it a good medicine for the heart and lungs. The potential tamasic qualities of mushrooms should not make us forget their benefits. Their tamasic qualities are much less than that of meat and fish and can be compensated for, particularly by taking mushrooms more as a side dish or condiment with more sattvic food items. If one learns how to cook them properly, mushrooms can be an important addition to a healthy vegetarian diet, and can add good flavoring properties.
There are several wild mushrooms that have powerful tonic and energy-producing actions. These include the king boletus, morel, oyster and chanterelle. Many of these mushrooms grow abundantly in American forests, particularly in the Pacific Northwest and the wetter Eastern forests. Many health food stores are now carrying these as well.
Some scholars have proposed that the original Vedic soma was the Amanita mushroom, or fly agaric. There is no real basis for this, as the Vedic soma was a type of plant, not just one species, and the species defined are largely high mountain plants of the orchid, reed and sunflower families. Still, one cannot rule out that such a mushroom was one of the many types of soma plants!
Om Tat Sat
(My humble salutations to Sadguru Sri Sivaya Subramuniyaswami ji, Satguru Bodhianatha Velayanswami ji, Hinduism Today for the collection)
(The Blog is reverently for all the seekers of truth, lovers of wisdom and to share the Hindu Dharma with others on the spiritual path and also this is purely a non-commercial blog)