Supreme Court Broadens “Ministerial Exception”

In a widely anticipated ruling, the Supreme Court held that religious institutions have expansive authority in employing teachers who had a role in providing any form of religious instruction or observance.

In Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrisey-Berru, the Court made clear that that federal employment discrimination laws do not apply to teachers at church-run schools whose duties include religious instruction. Justice Alito, basing his reasoning on the First Amendment’s protection of religious freedom, wrote:

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.

The Court, in a 7-2 decision, emphasized that the title or training of the teacher were not determinative, rather, it is the actual duties of the individual teacher that defined who could enjoy the “ministerial exception.” By making that point, the Court broadly expanded the number of teachers who no longer have the protections of Title VII and other employment discrimination laws. Many commentators believe this ruling will encourage those challenging the Court’s recent ruling expanding Title VII protections to LGBTQ workers to bring lawsuits based on religious freedom grounds.