SCOTUS handed President Donald Trump two victories in a single day. While everyone was focused on the right of employers with religious or moral objections to refuse to pay for contraceptives under the Affordable Care Act, most people missed the second ruling, which confirms that religious institutions and schools have a First Amendment right to select their employees too.
SCOTUS sides with religious conservatives
The Supreme Court of the United States ruled overwhelmingly in favor of conservative religious groups by a margin of 7-2, clarifying the relationship between church and state. SCOTUS threw out two discrimination lawsuits filled by teachers against their employers, who happen to be religious institutions. The ruling is seen as a huge win for religious freedom.
As Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority, SCOTUS decided that the First Amendment “protects the right” of religious schools “to decide for themselves, free from state interference, matters of church government as well as those of faith and doctrine.” That doesn’t mean they can start doing human sacrifices or passing out peyote. Alito pointed out that “religious institutions do not enjoy “a general immunity from secular laws.” What religious organizations do have is the right to “autonomy” with “respect to internal management decisions.”
Even though the teachers who sued weren’t called “ministers,” SCOTUS decided they were. There is “abundant record evidence that they both performed vital religious duties.” Even though they were lay teachers, “they prayed with their students, attended Mass with the students, and prepared the children for their participation in other religious activities.” That makes all the difference in the world.
Transform them automatically
Justice Sonia Sotomayor helped Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg put her liberal ire on paper in a dissent. Going against the SCOTUS majority as expected, the progressives are upset that just because the teachers taught religion “for a part of some days in the week” a prayer or two can magically “transform them automatically into ministers.”
The concept of the “ministerial exception” has been around for about seven years now. SCOTUS previously recognized that “under the First Amendment the government could not interfere with a church’s employment decisions” because “the teacher in that case could be considered a minister.” It would be ridiculous to require “a church to accept or retain an unwanted minister, or punishing a church for failing to do so.” They were unanimous on that one.
As SCOTUS Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, such silly behavior “deprives” the church “of control over the election of those who will personify its beliefs.” That means that a religious group has “the right to shape its own faith and mission through its appointments.”
Understandably, progressive liberals are furious with the decision that SCOTUS is forcing them to live with. Before the ruling was handed down, attorney Jeffrey L. Fisher argued “it would blow a hole in our nation’s civil rights laws and our employment laws in general to say that categorical immunity applies and so schools can pay people different amounts, use race, sex, other private characteristics even when they have nothing to do with the religion and religious values at stake.” Suck it up snowflake. It’s here to stay.