ACLU Comment on Supreme Court Ruling in Case Allowing Employment Discrimination By Religious Schools

July 8, 2020 11:30 am

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that teachers at two religious elementary schools were “ministers” who were not entitled to assert discrimination claims against their employers.

The cases, Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru and St. James School v. Biel, considered how broadly the “ministerial exception,” — which prohibits courts from deciding certain employment disputes brought by ministers — applies to teachers at religious schools. Although the exception serves important purposes in safeguarding religious institutions’ autonomy with respect to selecting leadership, it can come at a significant cost, conferring the extraordinary power to discriminate against ministerial employees on any basis whatsoever, including race, sex, disability, and other protected characteristics.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed an amicus brief in the case, urging the court to develop a careful analysis that recognizes both the rights of religious institutions and the substantial nondiscrimination interests that employees of religious schools have.

Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, had the following reaction:

“The Supreme Court had an opportunity to adopt a robust and nuanced test to govern these disputes, one that would have preserved religious institutions’ ability to choose their ministers while also protecting the vast majority of employees from invidious discrimination. Instead, the court appears to defer largely to the say-so of schools, essentially offering them a rubber stamp for discrimination.”

More information on the case can be found here:

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