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Supreme Court ruling shielding religious schools welcomed by some Jewish groups

'It’s not the government’s business to tell churches, synagogues, mosques, temples how they pass the faith on to the next generation'


The Supreme Court of the United States

Jewish groups are celebrating the Supreme Court’s decision on Wednesday in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrisey-Berru, in which the court ruled that religious schools are exempt from employment discrimination laws when it comes to hiring teachers who perform religious duties.

“The 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,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the opinion for the 7-2 majority. “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.”

Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented.

The American Jewish Committee, which submitted an amicus brief in the case, welcomed the decision.

“We’re pleased,” AJC chief legal officer Marc Stern told Jewish Insider. “It’s also surprising that you had a 7-2 decision and not a 5-4 decision which has come to characterize decisions about the religion clause of the Constitution. It shows there are still some issues on which it’s possible to have a broader array of justices reaching a decision.”

“It’s a long-standing position of the AJC that religious groups ought to be free within very broad limits to shape the way they pass the faith on to others,” Stern continued. “It’s not the government’s business to tell churches, synagogues, mosques, temples how they pass the faith on to the next generation.”

However, he cautioned, “it behooves schools not to abuse [the] privilege” the court granted them in this case.

Stephen Kravit, an attorney for the Milwaukee Jewish Day School, which also filed an amicus brief, praised the court for providing “more clarity and guidance for Jewish day schools in how the ministerial exception applies.” 

In a statement to JI, Kravit also noted that the court’s decision leaves open possibilities for future challenges.

Wednesday’s decision follows another ruling on parochial schools last week. In Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, the court ruled that states cannot exclude religious schools from scholarship programs that provide a tax credit to contributors.

The Supreme Court also released a second decision on religious freedom issues on Wednesday, ruling that employers can cite religious or moral objections to decline to include free contraceptives in their health care plans.

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