Handmaiden’s Tale, SCOTUS Edition

Two rulings today.

In the first, the Supreme Court ruled that teachers at religious schools are “Ministers” and as such can never sue their employer for discrimination:

In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that a doctrine known as the “ministerial exception,” which bars ministers from suing churches and other religious institutions for employment discrimination, prohibited a lawsuit filed by a teacher at a Lutheran school who was also an ordained minister. Today, by a vote of 7-2, the court held in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru that the exception also forecloses lawsuits by two teachers at Catholic elementary schools in southern California. Although the teachers were not ordained ministers, the schools had argued that the exception nonetheless applied because they played a key role in teaching religion to their students, and the court – in an opinion by Justice Samuel Alito – agreed.

Today’s decision came in a pair of cases, both filed by fifth-grade teachers against parish schools in the Los Angeles area. Agnes Morrissey-Berru taught at Our Lady of Guadalupe School in Hermosa Beach for nearly two decades before she was told that her contract would not be renewed. Morrissey-Berru went to federal court, where she claimed that she had been the victim of age discrimination. The district court threw out the lawsuit, agreeing with the school that the ministerial exception applied.

The second plaintiff, Kristen Biel, sued St. James School in Torrance when – not long after she disclosed that she was being treated for breast cancer – the school failed to renew her contract. Biel claimed that the school had discriminated against her because she had cancer, but the district court agreed with the school that Biel’s lawsuit was barred by the ministerial exception.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit reinstated both teachers’ lawsuits. It reasoned that the ministerial exception normally applies when an employee plays a “religious leadership” role, but that Biel and Morrissey-Berru played a more limited role, mostly “teaching religion from a book.” The schools went to the Supreme Court, which today reversed.

This is a horrible ruling, and when juxtaposed with the court’s recent ruling in in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue,it means that taxpayers are going to be forced to pay for discrimination.

I agree with Sotamayor’s dissent that this is a, “Simplistic approach has no basis in law and strips thousands of schoolteachers of their legal protection.”

I expect to see a return to the segregation academies of the bad old days, and I am inclined to believe that for at least some of the justices, this was an unstated goal.

The other opinion is that the Trump administration’s moves to make it possible for pretty much any employer to claim a religious exemption and not provide birth control coverage:

The Affordable Care Act’s birth-control mandate requires most employers to provide their female employees with health insurance that includes access to certain forms of contraceptives. In 2017, the Trump administration issued new rules that expanded an exemption from the mandate to allow private employers with religious or moral objections to opt out of providing coverage without any notice. Today, by a vote of 7-2, the Supreme Court in Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania rejected a challenge from two states that had argued that the new rules violate both the ACA itself and the federal laws governing administrative agencies. The ruling was an important victory for the Trump administration, but the battle over the exemptions and the mandate is likely not over yet.

Margaret Atwood weeps.

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