The Supreme Court ruled in a 7-2 decision on Wednesday that civil courts cannot get involved in employment discrimination claims brought against religious organizations where the employee served a religious function.
The decision expanded on a previous ruling from 2012 which said that religious organizations have a “ministerial exception” from employment discrimination lawsuits, but it was unclear exactly who qualifies as a “minister.
“The religious education and formation of students is the very reason for the existence of most private religious schools, and therefore the selection and supervision of the teachers upon whom the schools rely to do this work lie at the core of their mission,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the court’s opinion. “Judicial review of the way in which religious schools discharge those responsibilities would undermine the independence of religious institutions in a way that the First Amendment does not tolerate.”
The decision covered two cases involving teachers at religious schools who claimed that they were discriminated against. In one, Agnes Morrissey-Berru alleged that a Roman Catholic school in Los Angeles did not renew her contract because of her age. She taught a variety of subjects, including religion, but did not have any religious training or title prior to working there. She did take religious education classes at the school’s request once she was working there, and prayed with students.
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