In a 7-2 ruling, the Court clarified that the First Amendment protects the right of religious institutions “to decide for themselves, free from state interference, matters of church government as well as those of faith and doctrine.”
The case had been brought by two fifth-grade teachers at religious parish schools in the Los Angeles area. The teachers had each been dismissed, one after working for nearly 20 years and the other after getting breast cancer. Each plaintiff had sued for unfair dismissal on the grounds of age and health respectively. In each case, the school claimed they had a First Amendment right to choose staff as they are religious institutions.
Although the teachers were not technically “ministers,” the justices found there was “abundant record evidence that they both performed vital religious duties.” Giving the ruling, Justice Samuel Alito explained: “They prayed with their students, attended Mass with the students, and prepared the children for their participation in other religious activities.”
Alito added that although religious institutions do not have “a general immunity from secular laws” they have independence with regard to “internal management decisions.”
The win for conservatives happened on the same day that the Supreme Court also ruled that employers are not required to cover insurance for contraception.
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