The U.S. Supreme Court will rule this summer whether religious schools are immune from lawsuits filed by teachers alleging employment discrimination (“Justices Struggle With Religious Institutions’ Freedom to Hire and Fire at Will,” The Wall Street Journal, May 12). The two cases involve Catholic schools in California, but the decision will have far-reaching implications for all religious schools across the country.
One case pertains to health and the other to age discrimination. I’m not an attorney, but I thought the “ministerial exception” issue was settled law by now. Although federal statutes outlawing employment discrimination on race, sex, age and disability make no carve-out for church employers, lower courts have reasoned over the years that the separation of church and state protects such employers from government control.
But who counts as a minister? In 1987 in Bishop v. Amos, SCOTUS held that religious organizations must be “free to select their own leaders, define their own doctrines, resolve their own disputes, and run their own institutions.” Then in 2012 in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the high court reaffirmed its prior decision. That’s why I think the plaintiffs in the two cases now before SCOTUS will have an uphill battle to prevail.
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