Supreme Court: Religious workers can’t sue for job discrimination

The US Supreme Court building in Washington, DC.

The Supreme Court ruled today that religious workers can’t sue for job discrimination, the Associated Press reported.

In its unanimous decision, the Supreme Court agreed with lower courts that there should be a “ministerial exemption” to anti-discrimination laws based on the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of religion, the AP reported.

“The interest of society in the enforcement of employment discrimination statutes is undoubtedly important,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote in the decision, the New York Times reported. “But so, too, is the interest of religious groups in choosing who will preach their beliefs, teach their faith and carry out their mission.”

According to the New York Times:

The ruling will have concrete consequences for countless people employed by religious groups to perform religious work. In addition to ministers, priests, rabbis and other religious leaders, the decision appears to encompass, for instance, at least those teachers in religious schools with formal religious training who are charged with instructing students about religious matters.

Bishop William E. Lori, chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ ad hoc committee for religious liberty, cheered the decision, the New York Times reported. “This decision,” he said in a statement, “makes resoundingly clear the historical and constitutional importance of keeping internal church affairs off limits to the government — because whoever chooses the minister chooses the message.”

However, other groups said not protecting religious workers from employment discrimination would allow abuse to occur.

"Clergy who are fired for reasons unrelated to matters of theology – no matter how capricious or venal those reasons may be – have just had the courthouse door slammed in their faces," Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said in a statement, according to CNN.

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