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2020-JUL: U.S. Supreme Court
Rules in Favor of Allowing
Religious Schools to Discriminate
freely in Employment:

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On 2020-JUL-08, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a major ruling. The Justices' vote was 7:2. It will allow religious schools to ignore existing anti-discrimination laws and to freely discriminate in employing teachers under the protection of the "ministerial exception" law.

The case involved two teachers at unrelated Roman Catholic schools in Los Angeles, CA. They had been fired -- alledgely because of poor performance. However, one teacher said that their firing actually ocurred because of age discrimination. The other teacher said that her firing was caused by her request for time off for a medical procedure associated with her cancer.

The U.S. Ninth Court of Appeals had previously ruled in favor of the teachers on the basis that they were teachers, not ministers, and thus did not qualify to be placed under the ministerial exception law.

The Supreme Court's ruling has now greatly broadened the ministerial exception rule. It now allows religious groups to hire and fire employees who are not ministers, without considering existing laws that ban descrimination based on gender, age, race, exual orientatation, gender identity, etc.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote the majority report. He said that a religious employee does not have to have the title "minister" in order to come under the "ministerial exception, and thus not have the protection of anti-discrimination laws.

He wrote:

“... both their schools expressly saw them as playing a vital part in carrying out the mission of the church, and the schools’ definition and explanation of their roles is important. In a country with the religious diversity of the United States, judges cannot be expected to have a complete understanding and appreciation of the role played by every person who performs a particular role in every religious tradition. A religious institution’s explanation of the role of such employees in the life of the religion in question is important.

“When a school with a religious mission entrusts a teacher with the responsibility of educating and forming students in the faith, judicial intervention into disputes between the school and the teacher threatens the school’s independence in a way that the First Amendment does not allow." 1

Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Samuel Alito, Stephen Breyer, Neil Gorsuch, Elena Kagan, Brett Kavanaugh, and Clarence Thomas voted in favor of the ruling; Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented. Justice Sotomayor wrote in her dissenting opinion:

"This sweeping result is profoundly unfair. The Court is not only wrong on the facts, but its error also risks upending antidiscrimination protections for many employees of religious entities. 1 

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The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty had represented the two schools in the case before the Supreme Court. Eric Rassbach, their vice president and senior counsel,  said:

"Today is a huge win for religious schools of all faith traditions. The last thing government officials should do is decide who is authorized to teach Catholicism to Catholics or Judaism to Jews. We are glad the Court has resoundingly reaffirmed that churches and synagogues, not government, control who teaches kids about God." 1

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References used:

  1. Michael Foust, "Supreme Court Hands Major Victory to Christian Schools in Employment Case," Christian Headlines, 2020-JUL-08, at:

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Original posting: 2020-JUL-09
Author: Alton C. Thompson

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