In Appeal to Evangelical Crowd, Romney Voices Support of Ministerial Exception

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. - Making an appeal to an evangelical crowd this afternoon, Mitt Romney accused President Obama of promoting a path that will lead to a more "secular nation," citing for the first time a recent Supreme Court case that permitted the use of a "ministerial exception" in firing, a decision the Obama administration had opposed.

"We've become more and more of a secular nation," said Romney, speaking at the Faith and Freedom Coalition event in Myrtle Beach. "He had a more recent case - you may have seen that - before the Supreme court saying that the ministerial exception should be something that should be determined by government, not by the religious institution."

Romney was referring to the case of Cheryl Perich, a Michigan teacher who was fired by a school run by the Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church. Perich, who suffered from narcolepsy, was told she would be fired if she did not submit to an agreement that would give her some money for her health care in return for her resignation.

While Romney seemed to suggest that Obama himself had been opposed to the decision, the president never addressed the case publicly.

Perich, however, turned to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which filed suit on her behalf, arguing that her firing was in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The case went to the Supreme Court, who just last week issued a unanimous decision against Perich. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the court's opinion that the First Amendment bars "the government from interfering with the decision of a religious group to fire one of its ministers."

"The interest of society in the enforcement of employment discriminate statutes is undoubtedly important," Roberts wrote. "But so too is the interest of religious groups in choosing who will preach their beliefs, teach their faith, and carry out their mission.

"When a minister who has been fired sues her church and alleging that her termination was discriminatory, the First Amendment has struck the balance for us. The church must be free to choose those who will guide it on its way," he wrote.

Today, Romney used the case, which has been lauded by some as a victory of religious liberty, to emphasize his support of religious freedom.

"Fortunately that was struck down by the court 9-0," Romney said. "We are very fortunate [to have people] who are willing to stand up for religious tolerance and religious liberty and the First Amendment of this Constitution in this country."

Romney, who made a rare mention of his support of a constitutional amendment that would define a marriage as a union between a man and a woman, also used religious terminology in his speech, emphasizing the role of the "creator" in the audiences' lives.

"The founders said the creator had endowed us - God had endowed us, not the state, but divinity," Romney said.