The U.S. Supreme Court’s term ended last week. I would say that after all that we have been though as a nation during the term, the Court provided a beacon of hope for those of us who still care about the rule of law in our nation.
Nobody got everything they wanted from this court, but most of us got a little of what we wanted. And those who run left of center did better than expected.
Still, I was dismayed by one of the court’s final decisions issued last week in a case called Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrisseey-Berru. In that case, the Court gave a free pass to religious organizations, including the Catholic church, to indiscriminately discriminate illegally against employees based on any federally-protected classification including race, disability, age, or sex.
And from my perspective, the claims raised by religious institutions, many of which have been exposed as corrupt and toxic organizations over the last couple of decades, are suspect. These organizations have neither earned nor are worthy of any special protections that allow them to discriminate in service to their so-called higher religious cause.
How could a higher-religious cause ever allow for discrimination on the basis of race, or age, or sex. If anyone should be held to a higher standard, shouldn’t God be the One?
Apparently not according to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In last week’s decision, the plaintiff, a teacher named Agnes Morrissey-Berru brought an age discrimination complaint against her employer, Our Lady of Guadalupe School, a Catholic school in California.
She claimed in her complaint that she was fired by the school so that she could be replaced by a younger teacher. Those facts, if true, define age discrimination. And in this country, that is illegal. In the Catholic church, it is also immoral.
In a companion case, another Catholic school teacher brought a disability discrimination complaint arguing that she was terminated after she asked for a leave of absence to get treatment for breast cancer.
Our anti-discrimination laws exist to protect people. The court’s decision eliminates that protection in service to a greater goal of protecting “religious freedom.” Whether religious freedom should take precedence over the lives of people is an interesting policy argument.
However, let’s be honest. In each case, the Catholic church was not interested in protecting its “religious freedom.” Its religious freedom was not at stake. It was interested in protecting a right to act illegally by discriminating against employees.
And we have to ask ourselves, do we want to give the Catholic church, or any institution really, the right to completely disregard our laws on the basis of a false argument that religious freedom requires it. We have seen how the Catholic church has acted to perpetrate, perpetuate, condone, and cover-up illegal abuse for decades. Why would we give such an organization the right to discriminate and ruin lives while at the same time delivering a message to its flock that sometimes discrimination is good.
It doesn’t make sense.
The Supreme Court failed us when it held that the so-called “ministerial exception” gives religious institutions carte blanche to flout anti-discrimination laws in service to an amorphous right to shape its faith and mission through discriminatory conduct. We can do better, and we should.