WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that religious schools are exempt from most employment discrimination claims, doubling down on the autonomy religious employers enjoy to choose their leaders.
The 7-2 ruling came in two disputes between Catholic schools in California and the teachers they fired. Under a so-called ministerial exception, religious employers are given autonomy over their workers that is not available to other employers.
Associate Justice Samuel Alito wrote the court’s majority opinion. Associate Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the high court’s unanimous opinion in 2012 that allowed religious organizations to choose their leaders regardless of federal job discrimination laws. The latest question was whether the fired teachers performed enough religious duties to be considered “ministers” exempt from those laws.
It was one of three major cases the high court considered this year in the area of religious freedom. The justices also weighed whether employers with religious or moral objections should be exempt from providing insurance coverage for contraceptives. And the court recently ruled that a state may not grant financial support to children in private secular schools while denying the same support to families who have chosen private religious education for their children.
In the employment discrimination cases, 5th-grade teacher Kristen Biel was let go from St. James Catholic School after developing breast cancer and seeking medical leave to undergo chemotherapy. She sued successfully under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the school appealed. Biel lost her battle with the disease last year, leaving her husband Darryl to carry on her challenge.
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Source: USA Today