Religious liberty for institutions but not for individuals

How the Supreme Court's ministerial exception dodges the real test of religious liberty

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Private religious schools are mostly shielded from anti-discrimination suits for their hiring and firing decisions, the Supreme Court ruled Wednesday in a 7-2 decision on Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru (consolidated with a similar case, St. James School v. Biel). The ruling clarifies the court's doctrine of "ministerial exception" to employment discrimination laws, an idea that developed in the federal court system for half a century but was not explicitly affirmed by the Supreme Court until 2012, when the justices endorsed it 9-0.

The ministerial exception — which says religious institutions can't be forced by the state to keep employees at odds with their beliefs and practices is not a bad idea. If the alternative is current law with no ministerial exception, the exception is a welcome doctrine indeed. But I'm unconvinced it's the best approach to preserving this aspect of religious liberty. For while it protects religious institutions, the ministerial exception does not protect religion itself.

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