The Supreme Court defended religious liberty on Wednesday, bolstering and broadening the so-called “ministerial exception.” In a 7-2 decision, the court ruled that the Constitution protects the freedom of religious organizations to hire and fire employees who play a vital role in fulfilling their religious mission. The decision, Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, reaffirms important religious liberty principles and offers valuable guidance to religious organizations concerned about the strength of the protections of the First Amendment.
In an opinion authored by Justice Samuel Alito, the court held that the ministerial exception barred two fifth-grade teachers at Catholic schools in Southern California from bringing employment discrimination claims against their schools. The court reversed the decision of the Ninth Circuit, which held that the teachers fell outside the ministerial exception because they lacked religious training and credentials, and did not hold themselves out as faith leaders.
Rejecting the lower court’s formalistic approach, the Supreme Court stated that religious titles and training were neither necessary nor sufficient for determining whether a particular employee falls within the ministerial exception. “What matters,” Alito wrote, “is what an employee does.”
Wednesday’s ruling built upon the unanimous 2012 decision in which the Supreme Court first recognized the ministerial exception. In that case, which CT called the biggest religion case in 20 years, the court held that the First Amendment barred an ordained teacher from suing her employer, Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran School, for alleged disability discrimination.
The 2012 decision relied ...1
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