Supreme Court to decide who picks Catholic school teachers

By WND Staff

(Image courtesy Pixabay)

Seven years ago the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the famous Hosanna-Tabor case that a Lutheran school has the right to choose who will teach its faith precepts to students.

Now the justices have agreed to review the same issue regarding two Catholic schools.

The non-profit legal group Becket said Wednesday the Supreme Court justices agreed “to weigh in on whether the government can control who a church school chooses to teach its religion classes.”

The court accepted two cases, Our Lady of Guadelupe School v. Morrissey-Berru and St. James Catholic School v. Biel.

Becket is defending the two Catholic elementary schools in California that claim the right to choose ministers who embody their faith, without government interference.

The much-overturned 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided otherwise, ruling against the precedent established by the Supreme Court in 2012.

The Hosanna-Tabor case “protected the First Amendment right of a Lutheran school to choose who teaches the faith to the next generation, free from government interference,” Becket explained.

A “ministerial exception” allows religious schools to choose their own religion teachers.

It “protects all religious groups’ freedom to choose ‘ministerial’ employees without interference from bureaucrats or courts. Most courts have ruled that ministerial employees are those employees who perform important religious functions, like instructing young children in the precepts of the Catholic faith. But in both Our Lady of Guadalupe School and St. James School, the Ninth Circuit rejected this widely accepted rule,” Becket explained.

“Parents trust Catholic schools to assist them in one of their most important duties: forming the faith of their children,” said Montserrat Alvarado, vice president and executive director at Becket. “If courts can second-guess a Catholic school’s judgment about who should teach religious beliefs to fifth graders, then neither Catholics nor any other religious group can be confident in their ability to convey the faith to the next generation.”

Becket said the teachers, Agnes Morrissey-Berru and Kristen Biel, “played crucial roles in teaching the Catholic faith to their fifth-grade students. Both taught a religion class, integrated Catholic values into every subject they taught, joined their students in daily prayer, and accompanied students to Mass and other religious services.”

But they sued when their contracts were not renewed.

In December 2018, the 9th Circuit ruled against St. James Catholic School. In April 2019, the court also ruled against Our Lady of Guadalupe School. Even though both teachers had significant religious responsibilities, the 9th Circuit still decided that their work was not religious enough, Becket explained.

That prompted a warning from a minority coalition at the 9th Circuit that the ruling was “the very hostility toward religion our Founders prohibited and the Supreme Court has repeatedly instructed us to avoid.”

“Do we really want judges, juries, or bureaucrats deciding who ought to teach Catholicism at a parish school, or Judaism at a Jewish day school? Of course not,” said Eric Rassbach, vice president and senior counsel at Becket. “Religion teachers play a vital role in the ecosystem of faith. We are confident that the Supreme Court will recognize that, under our Constitution, government officials cannot control who teaches kids what to believe.”

The court explained, “Without correction, the 9th Circuit’s rule promises to turn up the heat on church-state conflict across the western United States and leaves religious institutions subject to two starkly different First Amendment standards depending on the accident of geography.”

Becket said the Supreme Court needs to speak on the issue because seven other circuit courts have disagreed with the 9th Circuit’s ruling.

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