Religious institutions no longer need to pray for help when it comes to the discrimination laws. Last week, in a 7-2 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court strengthened the “ministerial exception” that protects religious institutions from federal anti-discrimination laws.
Two teachers at parochial schools challenged their terminations by bringing discrimination lawsuits, one alleging age discrimination and the other discrimination based upon disability. The Supreme Court rejected their claims, finding that they were covered by the exception and thus unable to sue. In a decision written by Justice Alito, the majority held that teachers in almost any kind of religious instruction would be covered no matter their title or whether they themselves practice the faith.
The majority held that “(j)udicial review of the way in which religious schools discharge…. responsibilities [relating to religious education and formation of students] would undermine the independence of religious institutions in a way that the First Amendment does not tolerate.” The majority’s opinion was grounded in the Constitution’s protection of the free exercise of religion. While the decision does not grant religious institutions immunity from all secular laws, it does protect them with respect to internal management decisions that are essential to a religious institution’s central mission.
The two dissenters, Justices Ginsberg and Sotomayor, accused the majority of giving religious institutions “free rein” to discriminate.