Two Key Supreme Court Religion Decisions Court Clarifies Scope of Ministerial Exception and Rules that Employers Can Exclude Birth Control from Their Health Plans

Employment Law Insider & Alert

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PUBLISHED ON: July 15, 2020

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The United States Supreme Court issued two key decisions last week. The first expanded the scope of the ministerial exception to laws governing the employment relationship, affording religious-based institutions freedom in making personnel decisions. The second concerned the requirement in the Affordable Care Act that health plans cover birth control as free preventive care, holding that employers can exclude birth control from their health care plans if they oppose contraception on moral or religious grounds.

Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru

In this case the Supreme Court considered employment discrimination claims brought by two elementary school teachers at Catholic schools in Los Angeles. Writing for the 7-2 majority, Justice Alito reversed the Ninth Circuit holding that pursuant to the ministerial exception, courts are “bound to stay out of employment disputes involving those holding certain important positions with churches and other religious institutions.” 

The first of the two cases before the Court involved a teacher employed at a Roman Catholic primary school in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. The teacher, Agnes Morrissey-Berru, taught all subjects, including religion. The employment agreement stipulated that the school’s hiring and retention decisions would be guided by its Catholic mission, and that the teacher, pursuant to her employment agreement, was expected to promote the Catholic faith.

In 2014, the school asked Morrissey-Berru to switch from a full-time position to a part-time position. The following year, the school declined to renew her employment contract. Morrissey-Berru filed suit against...