WASHINGTON, D.C. — Independent Women’s Law Center (IWLC) is pleased that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the First Amendment protection of religious schools on Wednesday from government intervention in employment disputes involving teachers who are entrusted with the responsibility of instructing students in the faith.
In 2012, the Supreme Court issued an unanimous decision outlining the “ministerial exception” to employment discrimination claims against religious employers. This case involved the scope of that exception and, specifically, whether teachers at a Catholic school are properly defined as ministers of the faith.
IWLC filed an Amicus brief in the case, urging the Supreme Court to reverse the 9th Circuit’s decision denying the Catholic elementary school the right to choose its own ministers without government interference. IWLC’s brief argued that teachers at religious schools perform a vital role in advancing the school’s religious mission whether they are ordained ministers or lay people and irrespective of whether they teach courses in religion or math. Because the objective of a religious school is to inculcate religious values, IWLC argued that all teachers at these schools are “ministers” within the meaning of the “ministerial exception.”
Erin M. Hawley, senior legal fellow at Independent Women’s Law Center, issued the following statement: “A narrow interpretation of the ministerial exception would have interfered with the ability of parents to raise their children with a distinctly religious education. Teachers at religious schools play a critical role in transmitting the faith to the next generation and are, therefore, properly categorized as ‘ministers’.”
Writing for the 7-2 majority, Justice Samuel Alito agreed. In his opinion for the majority, Justice Alito noted that “[t]he 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.”
Read the full brief HERE.
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