Monday, Jul 06, 2020

The U.S. Supreme Court today looked to a 2012 decision establishing the doctrine of “ministerial exception” in ruling that Catholic school teachers could not sue for employment discrimination.

In writing the majority opinion in the 7-2 decision in Our Lady of Guadalupe School vs. Morrissey-Berru, Justice Samuel Alito expanded upon the concept of “ministerial exception” created in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School vs. EEOC. In the 2012 case, the court ruled that ministers could not sue churches and religious institutions for employment discrimination. The high court today agreed the exception applied to two Catholic school teachers because they played a key role in educating their students in the faith and, as Alito noted, “they were also expected to guide their students, by word and deed, toward the goal of living their lives in accordance with the faith.”

“What matters, at bottom, is what an employee does,” Alito wrote.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Stephen Breyer, Neal Gorsuch, Elena Kagan, Brett Kavanaugh, and Clarence Thomas joined Alito’s opinion. Thomas also filed a concurring opinion, which Gorsuch joined. Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a dissent, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops applauded the ruling in a statement issued by Archbishop Wenski of Miami, chairman of the Committee for Religious Liberty, and Bishop Barber, S.J. of Oakland, chairman of the Committee on Catholic Education.

“As institutions carrying out a ministry of the Church, Catholic schools have a right, recognized by the Constitution, to select people who will perform ministry,” stated Archbishop Wenski and Bishop Barber, adding later, “This decision means that the Church can continue to serve her neighbors with integrity.”

The USCCB had previously filed an amicus curiae brief supporting Our Lady of Guadalupe School and St. James School, both of which are located in the Los Angeles area.