Faith-Based Schools Secure Ministerial Exception Protection

In a July 8, 2020 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the rights of faith-based schools to manage their own affairs without government interference.

In Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, 591 U.S. _____ (2020), the Court heard two cases filed by former Catholic school teachers who claimed that their former employers had unlawfully discriminated against them. The issue was whether the First Amendment’s guarantees of religious liberty prevented the federal courts from intervening in these cases. In a 7-2 decision, the Court held that the plaintiffs fell within a “ministerial exception” applicable to employees with religious duties; therefore, federal courts could not hear their employment discrimination claims without violating the First Amendment rights of the Catholic school defendants. According to the Court, the First Amendment “protects the right of religious institutions ‘to decide for themselves, free from state interference, matters of church government as well as those of faith and doctrine.’”

This decision is especially important in light of the Court’s recent decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, 590 U.S. _____ (2020), in which the Court (wrongly) held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act bars employment discrimination based on the phony categories of sexual orientation and gender identity. The Court’s decision in Our Lady of Guadalupe could help protect Christian schools and other Christian organizations against future lawsuits from disgruntled former employees who wish to punish them for not allowing homosexual and transgendered behavior.