Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey Berru (Catholic school teachers fall under the First Amendment ministerial exception)


Opinion by Justice Alito for a 7 to 2 majority. Dissent by Justice Sotomayor joined by Justice Ginsburg.

Essentially courts may not adjudicate employment discrimination claims by teachers at religious schools, when those teachers are responsible for instructing students in religious doctrines of their faith.

They fall under the “ministerial exception” to employment discrimination laws.

I concur in this ruling, in which Justices Breyer and Kagan joined with the conservative majority.

1 Like

Makes sense since one of the defining characteristics of religions is their exclusivity. If you want to be part of a religion, there are rules you are supposed to follow. Example: you can’t teach your children that gay marriage is sinful behavior and employ a gay person who is married to the same sex teach your children. It would cause confusion. Teachers are role models to children, and the school should have that right to impose their religious belief as part of their employment contract.

I think of it as a bona fide occupational qualification.


I’ve scanned the syllabus and through the factual background in the two cases here and I’m confused. Maybe you could help me understand.

In the case of Morrissey-Berru, I don’t understand the “ministerial exemption” application here. The Church said the reduction in contract from full-time to part-time and then terminating her the next year. Here is the part where I’m confused:

“In 2014, OLG asked Morrissey-Berru to move from a fulltime to a
part-time position, and the next year, the school declined to renew
her contract. She filed a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission (EEOC), received a right-to-sue letter, App. 169, and
then filed suit under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of
1967, 81 Stat. 602, as amended, 29 U. S. C. §621 et seq., claiming
that the school had demoted her and had failed to renew
her contract so that it could replace her with a younger
teacher. App. 168–169. The school maintains that it based
its decisions on classroom performance—specifically,
Morrissey-Berru’s difficulty in administering a new reading
and writing program, which had been introduced by the school’s new
principal as part of an effort to maintain accreditation and improve
the school’s academic program.”

How does poor “performance implementing a reading and writing program” fall under the ministerial exemption?

Now failure to uphold the morals of the religious entity? I see that. Failure to teach the tenants of the religoin as required? I see that. Failure to lead the class in appropriate religious observances as part of duties required? I see that.

Poor performance in implementing a new secular curriculum module? I can see that, based on performance. I don’t see it as qualifying under the ministerial exemption through.

Without the ministerial exemption, would that then cause the claims of age discrimination to be more closely examined? If so, would that be correct, especially as she claimed it was to hire a younger teacher (and yes younger teachers cost less).

The ministerial exemption relates to the position the individuals hold, NOT to the reason for their discharge.

The teachers in these two cases (Morrissey Berru and Biel from the case decided with this one) were clearly terminated for unlawful reasons (age, breast cancer). However, under the First Amendment, their positions are exempted from the applicable employment discrimination statutes. Because of the overtly religious nature of their positions, the courts have determined that adjudicating such cases comprises government interference with religion.

Note this would NOT apply to all Catholic school (or other private religious school) teachers. A teacher who teaches English in a Catholic school but has no religious responsibilities would still be able to sue for age or other discrimination.

1 Like

Thanks, the fact that the ministerial exemption applies to the position and not the reason for dismissal was the part I was missing. Appreciate it.

With that said I think then I disagree with the decision as it should apply to the reason not the characteristics of the individual.

If I run a non-religious private school I couldn’t fire older teachers to hire cheaper younger ones or fire a teacher with breast cancer that needs time off for treatment. A religious school can fire people due to a ministerial exemption for secular reasons does not seem to comply with the intent of the 1st Amendment. The same standards should apply. Failure to uphold moral clauses based on religious tenants or performing religious duties? Absolutely. Age and breast cancer, just don’t see it.

1 Like

The bright side is that this exception fortunately only applies to a relatively small number of religious school teachers, those ones that have overtly religious functions. The large majority of religious school teachers will not fall under this exception.

Why anyone would want to enter a club that clearly doesn’t want them confuses me. Let’s say the individual denied employment teaching at a Catholic school was a gay male.

That individual could apply to teach in public schools who cannot similarly discriminate against him. It’s a good ruling for the Church. Why should they be forced to employ someone who clearly doesn’t represent their values?

It appears you didn’t read the ruling. Had nothing to do with people who “represent their values”.

The teacher(s) were wanted, upheld the values, and was part of the club. The two in the case made classic mistakes though. One got old and one got breast cancer.

Hence the ministerial exemption application.

Oh wait, what part of getting old or getting breast cancer disqualifies one from being Catholic?

I would note that while I agree with the decisions, I still think the churches in questions were ■■■■■■ bags for doing it.

I would also note that Mrs. Biel died of her breast cancer on June 7, 2019. The case was then pursued by her husband acting as the administrator of her estate.

Firing a person for having breast cancer is not particularly a “Christian” thing to do.

1 Like

Re breast cancer, does the school employ 50 or more, making employees eligible for leave of absence under FMLA? The terms of FMLA, signed by Bill Clinton, have nothing at all to do with any faith.

Had a friend when I lived in another part of the Commonwealth. She requested leave of absence for hysterectomy due to more common uterine cancer.

She was advised by her boss she may want to consider if she was right for the job & told her job couldn’t be guaranteed back once she recovered. It was posted behind her back on Craig’s List.

Employer was a small repo agency that employed under 50. Friend was fired due to other job related problems & ruling was that as a small business, the agency was within the legal limits.

Maybe that’s the same for the RC school. It has nothing to do with faith, but a totally secular federal law.

Then stand on that as the legal case. Not hiding behind the ministerial exemption. “Hey we have less than 50 employees so we can fire breast cancer patients at will as they have no protections under FMLA.”


You’re right!

I so wish many could just come right out & tell it like it is, or at least how they see it, rather than using euphemisms & hiding behind something else.

Dissent by Justice Sotomayor joined by Justice Ginsburg.

…and I’m shocked I tell you. :sunglasses:

So you think it’s ok to push sexuality on to children?