Supreme Court

Supreme Court Strengthens First Amendment Protections for Religious Employers

SCOTUS rules 7-2 in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru.

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In Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (2012), a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court held that the "ministerial exception" to federal anti-discrimination law shielded a parochial school from a federal disability lawsuit filed by a discharged teacher. The school's personnel decisions, the Court said, are guarded by the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment which, in the Court's words, "protects a religious group's right to shape its own faith and mission through its appointments."

In a 7-2 ruling issued today, the Court doubled down on that principle. At issue in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru were employment discrimination claims filed on behalf of two Catholic school teachers, which allege that they were fired for reasons of health and age, respectively. Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito held that the "ministerial exception" to federal anti-discrimination law bars the federal courts from hearing these suits.

"The religious education and formation of students is the very reason for the existence of most private religious schools, and therefore the selection and supervision of the teachers upon whom the schools rely to do this work lie at the core of their missions," Alito wrote. "Judicial review of the way in which religious schools discharge those responsibilities would undermine the independence of religious institutions in a way that the First Amendment does not tolerate."

Alito's opinion was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and by Justices Clarence Thomas, Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh.

Writing in dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, complained that because of the Court's decision, employees at religious schools "could be fired for any reason, whether religious or nonreligious, benign or bigoted, without legal recourse." The dissenters would have denied the ministerial exception.

Last month, in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, Justice Neil Gorsuch led the Court in strengthening federal anti-discrimination protections for gay and transgender employees. That ruling, which centered on the employment practices of secular entities, led some religious groups to worry that Bostock would eventually be applied to religious employers as well, thereby undercutting the Court's previous rulings in favor of the free exercise rights of religious institutions.

Today's decision in Our Lady of Guadalupe School suggests that those worries may have been overblown. Thanks to a seven-justice majority, the ministerial exception now stands on even stronger legal grounds.

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  1. Writing in dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, complained that because of the Court’s decision, employees at religious schools “could be fired for any reason, whether religious or nonreligious, benign or bigoted, without legal recourse.”

    If I had my druthers, that would be the case regardless of religion. Freedom of association ought be matter and ought to cover freedom of religion.

    1. Like claiming to be a protest so you can gather outside, to have freedom of association, just claim to be a religion. Problem solved.

      1. “I’m sorry Uncle Sam. I identify as a religion.”

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    2. “Writing in dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, complained that because of the Court’s decision, employees at religious schools “could be fired for any reason, whether religious or nonreligious, benign or bigoted, without legal recourse”

      Incidentally, are employees allowed to quit for whatever reason they want, or are they required to work for employers against their will unless they’re quitting for a reason that’s sufficient for Ginsburg and Sotomayor?

      Are people allowed to quit working for a company because they don’t like the owner’s religion or aren’t they?

      1. I tried quitting my first job out of high school, but they wouldn’t let me. They said I signed a contract. Fortunately, the contract had an expiration, so I just waited.

        1. You couldn’t quit without the consequences in your contract, but if you’d stayed home, no one would have called the police and chained you up. Abraham Lincoln made that against the law with an EO in 1863.

          1. It was the Army, so the consequences would have been severe.

            1. Yeah, that’s the thing about joining the military.

              Although even the military will respect religious convictions!

              https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conscientious_objector#United_States

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  2. This has nothing to do with religious freedom. This is all about religious organizations wanting to get out of having to comply with labor laws. The ministerial exemptions makes sense when applied to actual religious requirements, but in these cases they now expanded it to cover firing an employee with cancer, and for age discrimination. I can’t believe that any religion has a tenet that says they need to be mean to people with cancer.

    1. Using the government to force nuns to finance the fornication of their employees has nothing to do with religion?!

      “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”.

      Which part of that don’t you understand?

      In these cases they now expanded it to cover firing an employee with cancer, and for age discrimination. I can’t believe that any religion has a tenet that says they need to be mean to people with cancer.

      Even IF IF IF this slippery slope argument had a legitimate basis, where in the First Amendment does it say your pity party is more important than religious freedom?

      1. It is my opinion (that I know many disagree with) that exempting religions from regular laws IS establishment of religion. Religious exemptions should be narrow and focused. Also I disagree that the nuns were financing fornication. They bought insurance for their employees that included contraception coverage, which is the same coverage that all other employees get. They did not provide it, the insurance company did. It is wrong to use your religion to hurt others. If the nuns don’t want BC, then that is fine, but they have no business getting involved in the health care coverage between the employees, the doctors, and the insurance company.

        1. “Exempting religions from regular laws IS establishment of religion”

          Enforcing laws that compel people to violate their religious convictions is establishment.

          “Also I disagree that the nuns were financing fornication.”

          What you think of other people’s religious convictions shouldn’t make any difference. They thought they were being forced to finance their employee’s fornication, and they objected on that basis.

          The question isn’t whether their religions convictions are important to you. The question is whether their religious convictions are important to them.

          “They bought insurance for their employees that included contraception coverage”

          They owned a hospital system through which they provided care and insurance to their employees, and the law required them to provide contraception to their employees like it hadn’t before.

          1. So it’s too much to ask that employers not impose their religion on employees who may not even be members of their religion?

            1. How did the employee get hired if the employer and employee hate each other so much?

              Hypotheticals have to be at least plausible.

              1. One of the plaintiffs here was fired for having cancer. Does Jesus hate people with cancer?

                1. I mean…. probably?

                  1. A pity he didn’t give YOU cancer.

              2. Being adherents of different religions somehow equates to hating each other now?

            2. If you don’t want to work for a company that won’t pay your contraception, Tony, you don’t have to work for that company.

              1. Is this a discussion of the topic at hand or is it a discussion of nondiscrimination law in general?

      2. One could also argue that the nun case is a great reason to relieve employers from providing health care to their workers and we should go single payer instead.

        1. “Single payer” as in the employees themselves? Like home and car insurance?

          Sounds good.

          1. But would the mandates be reduced to similar levels? The government only requires liability coverage. It is the lien holder that requires the comprehensive coverage. I get to pick if I want higher levels or riders. I don’t get much choice for health insurance.

          2. As you’re well aware, single payer means the federal government pays for all healthcare.

        2. No, there’s no reason good enough to justify the government violating our First Amendment religious rights. After all, if government has any legitimate purpose at all, it’s to protect our rights–not violate them for the presumed general good.

          Incidentally, avoiding the negative consequences of the government violating people’s religious rights is the intended purpose of the protection for religious rights in the First Amendment.

          In fact, the essence of the First Amendment can be found in the Peace of Westphalia.

          1) Princes can follow their own religion regardless of the religion of the emperor.

          That’s freedom from establishment.

          2) The people can practice their own religion regardless of the religion of the prince.

          That’s free exercise.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peace_of_Westphalia#Tenets

          Before the Peace of Westphalia, if you wanted to practice your own religion in peace, you needed to overthrow the prince in your province in favor of a prince of your own religion and then you needed to overthrow the emperor and replace him with an emperor of your own religion. People living under the government of ISIS had the same issue. It greatly contributed to the destruction of ISIS. If India doesn’t watch out, they may soon have that problem–and not just in Kashmir or with Pakistan.

          Here in the United States, we’re not likely to turn to bloody civil war, but we suffering negative consequences in other ways. If you don’t want more and more people in the United States to vote for candidates based solely on which religion they represent and how fervently religious they are, then you better protect their rights from intrusion by government–regardless of whether you support their religion or any religion at all.

          1. Your examples say nothing about the time when a government exempts religions from laws that everyone else must follow. If religions are allowed to not follow the law, then that raises them above everyone else, which in my view is establishment of religion also. Another tenet that I like is “One person’s rights end where another person’s begins.” An individual or business or organization does not have the right to put their religious beliefs onto others, or at lease the could not till recently.

            1. Provide some clear examples of just laws which everyone must follow regardless of religion. Murder? Rape? Theft? All valid, all followed. Free contraceptives? Nope, not even close.

            2. Is it really hard to imagine not making laws that compel people to violate their religious convictions?

              Let’s see the text again, maybe this time it will sink in:

              “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”

              Does it really need to be said that we shouldn’t pass laws that compel people to violate their religious convictions and if we do then the law is unconstitutional?

              The need to rationalize laws that violate people’s religious convictions is a false need–that only exists in your head rather than in the real world. Maybe you should just learn to go through life without using the government to violate people’s right to freedom of religion. Maybe that’s the only appropriate solution!

              1. Q: Gee, Ken, if we can’t violate people’s religious convictions, then how do we force nuns to finance their employees’ fornication?

                A: You have no business forcing nuns to finance their employees’ fornication–no really. Why don’t you pay for your own contraception?

            3. You have a very distorted definition of Establishment. The state can not mandate YOU, a single citizen, into complying with a set of religious tenants. That is Establishment. If a church is allowed to do things in the name of their religion that you maybe would not do/be allowed to do, how are you being compelled into a religious belief? You do not have to attend that church, tithe to it, bow to its god. You are not bound to uphold its religious functions under the threat of law. And you don’t get to use the “but I support it by paying taxes it doesn’t have to pay” because that argument can be used against literally every government function. I morally abhor the idea of welfare because it is simply theft of Peter under the guise of paying Paul. Peter may pay Paul all he wants, but Paul’s needs to not grant any moral authority to you to rob Peter to do it. And claiming it is a moral imperative that we do thus threatening me with fines/imprisonment if I do not participate in this moral activity violates my freedom of thought (the real fundamental ideal of “freedom of religion”… it’s not simply about “god” but about one’s own moral compass.)

              So… in short… you are trying to claim that the “Free exercise” clause amounts to “Establishment” in violation of the “Non-Establishment” clause… which makes the 1A contradictory. That should tell you that you’re missing something.

          2. Firing somebody because they’re old or because they have cancer has nothing to do with exercise of religion.

      3. Which part of that don’t you understand?

        Um, “religion”.

        1. I think there is a genuine problem with people imagining that religious rights are less important than others because they’re protecting something irrational. That’s why I try to reinforce the fact that violating people’s rights has real negative consequences in the real world–and failing to avoid those negative consequences by using the government to violate people’s rights is a hell of a lot more uneducated and irrational than the Sermon on the Mount.

          Like I said above, if you want more and more Americans to start voting for candidates based solely on whether and how fervently religious they are, then violate the religious rights of this party and that party, and your dreams will come true. If we’d rather religious people vote based on things like taxes, wars, immigration, and spending, then keep the religion question off the table by keeping violations of their religious convictions out of government.

          We might also notice that there’s a bigger problem, here, which is that plenty of people on the left also seem to imagine that our First Amendment speech rights aren’t legitimate if you exercise them to say something stupid. That our right to freedom of assembly isn’t valid if we exercise our association rights in ways that are stupid. This is all false. The consequences of using the government to violate people’s right to believe, say, and associate with stupid ideas are also negative, and anyone who doesn’t understand that is ignorant, stupid, or both.

          1. Thanks for the response, Ken! My concern is more along the lines that the government in effect “establishes” religion when it deems certain practices, however sincerely held, as not “real religion” worthy of 1A protection.

          2. Maybe it’s a dirty little secret or maybe not, but this is about competing rights claims, and traditionally religion has been on the losing side of that (though not anymore apparently). Meaning their rights claims to be outside the law undergo pretty strict scrutiny. You can’t just sacrifice a baby and claim an exemption because you strongly believed it would bring rain to your crops.

            So employees, much to libertarians’ chagrin, actually do have rights as employees. They’re constituents of our society and they have rights. It would be a stupid and bad system where the daily occupation of most humans is a rights-free zone. Allowing employers dictatorial liberties is not part of the constitutional order.

            1. To libertarians this actually SHOULD boil down to right of association. If it did, religion would be irrelevant in deciding it. We wouldn’t have to parse out infant sacrifice on one extreme to simply showing up to church on Sunday on the other extreme in the range of religious activity. That the court has historically chosen the WORST vehicles of the Constitution to decide cases is the problem. Another example? Instead of saying that privacy comes from a penumbra etc… the court should have just said, “It’s right there… in the 9th Amendment…. Right to Privacy. Next case…”

              1. Of course, “freedom of association,” to the extent it exists in the constitution, exists as a penumbra.

                1. Did you completely ignore the part where I mentioned the 9th Amendment?

                  1. DAMN… that’s for Tony. Sorry SQRLSY.

                    1. Whatever… this comment system sucks stanky scrotum. Not it shows my comment above being, correctly, under Tony. Reason.com has been fairly unreasonable with the comment function on me end today… getting all sorts of weird errors and whatnot.

            2. “pretty strict scrutiny”

              Stop using terms you don’t understand.

            3. “Maybe it’s a dirty little secret or maybe not, but this is about competing rights claims”

              —-Tony

              “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”

              —-First Amendment

              If insanity is doing the same thing over and over again always expecting a different result, what do we call it when people read the same thing over and over again and always come up with an absurd interpretation?

              I call it being “willfully obtuse”.

              This isn’t about competing claims. This is about the government violating someone’s rights.

            4. No one has a right to have an employer provide health insurance in the first place.

      4. Since when do completely non-religious decisions like in this case have anything to do with religious freedom? Laws prohibiting hiring discrimination on the basis of race or illness are not a “law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”.

        And it’s not a “slippery slope argument” since what he described is what has ALREADY HAPPENED.

        1. “The religious education and formation of students is the very reason for the existence of most private religious schools, and therefore the selection and supervision of the teachers upon whom the schools rely to do this work lie at the core of their mission. Judicial review of the way in which religious schools discharge those responsibilities would undermine the independence of religious institutions in a way that the First Amendment does not tolerate.”

          —-Majority Opinion, Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru

          Because you don’t want this to be about religion doesn’t mean it isn’t. Maybe you’re a lawyer? We’re not looking for novel ways to rationalize any argument that happens to come along. That’s in the next blog over.

          Rights are the obligation to respect other people’s choices. We’re here to defend our rights from people who would rationalize that obligation away. It’s amazing the kinds of rationalizations you’ll see people will come up with, too. Some people will even tell you that interfering with a religious organization’s decision making process has nothing to do with religion. I’ve seen ’em do it!

          I think I’ve posted the text of the First Amendment in this thread three times now. It shouldn’t be necessary to show where the Constitution says that Congress has no business establishing a religion or interfering with its free exercise again. Can you show me where it says that labor laws trump the First Amendment, or does your entire rationalization depend on pretending that interfering with a religious organization’s decision making process has nothing to do with establishment or free exercise?

          1. “In these cases they now expanded it to cover firing an employee with cancer, and for age discrimination. I can’t believe that any religion has a tenet that says they need to be mean to people with cancer.”

            The suggestion that being mean to people with cancer will somehow become like a religious tenet because of this decision is a slippery slope argument. Do you really believe churches will now go out of their way to be mean to as many cancer victims as possible? If that wasn’t the suggestion, then what did that statement mean in the context it was written? The suggestion was that being mean to people with cancer will become a new norm.

            The norm being perpetuated here is the government’s obligation to respect freedom of religion.

    2. And I can’t believe an employer should have to keep a person on staff who no longer can perform their duties because of age or health reasons. In construction, people get fired all the time for those reasons because they become a danger to others.

    3. >mean to people with cancer.

      The court wisely recognizes that there are people like you who can and will take any action under religious liberty and spin it as you just did. Particularly when also allowed to redefine words like “health” as including abortion and condoms.

      You also fail miserably at the basic understanding of Constitutional liberties. The 1st isn’t there to allow a church to get away with something or to decide what free speech is to you or give you a safe zone to do it. The 1st is a prohibition against government even making such decisions. There will always be people like you who expect liberties will match up with what you consider to be legitimate expressions, so the rule has to be that the details aren’t even up for argument.

  3. This right should have been extended to all employers.

    Looks like the old crone finally got them ruby slippers and matching gloves.

    1. Without extending this to every employer, you’re now going to have courts defining what is and is not a religion or religious belief. Or even more problematic… what claims are or are not a legitimate religious conviction. Seems like a major problem.

      If the board of directors for a company is majority Christian, could they vote to not provide coverage for birth control to their employees? Is a court really going to try to determine the veracity of their motivation for not providing coverage?

      1. In 2005, the Temple of the Jedi Order was registered in Texas. It was granted IRS tax exemption in 2015.

        https://www.templeofthejediorder.org/

      2. That is the Hobby Lobby case from a few years back. A private, secular business (craft supplies) owned by a self-described devout Christian family.

        From the wiki on Burwell v Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.:

        For such companies, the Court’s majority directly struck down the contraceptive mandate, a regulation adopted by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requiring employers to cover certain contraceptives for their female employees, by a 5–4 vote. The court said that the mandate was not the least restrictive way to ensure access to contraceptive care, noting that a less restrictive alternative was being provided for religious non-profits, until the Court issued an injunction 3 days later, effectively ending said alternative, replacing it with a government-sponsored alternative for any female employees of closely held corporations that do not wish to provide birth control. The ruling is considered to be part of the political controversy regarding the Affordable Care Act and freedoms in the United States.

        1. Hobby Lobby is privately held. I wonder if SCOTUS would find differently for a publicly held company that had no history of showing any religious affiliation.

          1. Ahh… I see your point now. So in other words… if the majority of the board, or maybe even shareholders?, become at some future point a completely or near-completely collection of devout Christians… could they THEN gain religious exemptions?

            That’s interesting… I would wager that not… because by virtue of being publicly held there’s always room for some members to not adhere to a doctrinal belief of some religion. As such, the company isn’t an extension of closely held beliefs but is a commercial enterprise that just so happens to be owned/run by Christians. That would be my guess on the ruling.

            1. It would be an interesting case for sure.

              It’s unfortunate that we have a narrow ruling that promotes religious freedom and not a broader ruling that supports all freedom. I’m not religious, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a sense of morality. I’m pro-choice, but I think that abortion is in fact morally objectionable. If I owned a private business I wouldn’t want to support it for my employees. Why does belief in a God give someone more rights than it does for someone who doesn’t? It’s a troubling position for me.

  4. CNN reports that the Supreme Court allows Trump to “weaken” Obamacare. I’m surprised AT&T has kept them around this long given their penchant for getting every story wrong and being ankle biters for the anti trump crowd.

  5. In order to secure an exemption from the law, you have to be sure to provide a nonsense reason, because this is Alice in Wonderland.

    1. Uhm the Bill of Rights is a nonsense reason? Just fuck off. God, did your brain rot away during the lockdown. This is even more stupid than you normally post

      1. Tony doesn’t give a shit about anything other than democrat power. And he wants unlimited rights as a sodomite, yet sneers at the rights of others.

    2. Perhaps, if it violates the 1st Amendment, the law should not exist at all? That it was always a usurpation of the people’s liberties.

  6. But it’s all right with liberals if UMass fires its nursing school dean for saying everyone’s life matters.

  7. “Supreme Court Strengthens First Amendment Protections for Religious Employers.”

    Oh, good!
    This means that all progressives who grovel and worship at the feet of Saint Karl Marx are covered too.

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