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Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Court’s Guadalupe decision allows discrimination

FFRF is decrying the unwarranted expansion of a religious exemption by the U.S. Supreme Court as a blow to the rights of employees everywhere.

“The Supreme Court is allowing religious employers a broad opportunity to discriminate against employees. Their workers now will have less protection under civil rights laws,” says Dan Barker, FFRF co-president.

The consolidated cases of Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru and St. James School v. Biel dealt with the “ministerial exception” to civil rights laws, which allow religious organizations to fire their “ministerial” employees for any reason — even because of race, sex, religion, age, national origin, etc. The July 8 ruling, which dealt with the firing of two teachers at different Catholic schools, harmfully expands this exception under the guise of the religion clauses of the First Amendment.

“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,” Justice Samuel Alito writes for the 7-2 majority opinion.

In a strong dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, points out the potentially dire societal consequences of the ruling.

“The court is not only wrong on the facts, but its error also risks upending antidiscrimination protections for many employees of religious entities,” she states. “Recently, this court has lamented a perceived ‘discrimination against religion.’ (Espinoza v. Montana Dept. of Revenue) Yet here it swings the pendulum in the extreme opposite direction, permitting religious entities to discriminate widely and with impunity for reasons wholly divorced from religious beliefs. The inherent injustice in the court’s conclusion will be impossible to ignore for long, particularly in a pluralistic society like ours.”

In an amicus brief filed before the court in March, FFRF had asked the high court to reject such overbroad firing practices.

FFRF’s brief was unique in warning the court that adopting the test preferred by the defendants would have an immediate, devastating impact on the rights of more than 1 million health-care employees — a point that is even more pertinent now than when the brief was filed.