Washington, D.C. | The U.S. Supreme Court recently issued two 7-2 rulings related to religious liberty that could have impact on Southern Baptists in Illinois.
The first involved Catholic schools facing discrimination lawsuits from teachers. The Court found the employees performed religious duties in their work and therefore fall under the ministerial exception rule, which protects religious organizations from some employment lawsuits. In effect, the ruling gives the religious schools sole authority to select, hire, and fire teachers of faith.
In the case, the Court discussed what education and experience are needed for a person to qualify as a minister. The Catholic schools argued the elementary school teachers were serving in ministerial roles. In the July 8 opinion, Justice Samuel Alito cited a friend-of-the-court brief submitted by the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, which argued “many Protestant groups have historically rejected any requirement of formal theological training.”
In their dissent, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg said they believe the ruling gives religious institutions “free rein to discriminate” against employees.
ERLC President Russell Moore called the ruling “crucial in reaffirming the religious liberty” of early Baptists in America and the Founding Fathers. He continued, “If a religious organization cannot recruit leaders who agree with the beliefs and practices of those organizations, then there can be no true religious freedom.”
The second case saw the Little Sisters of the Poor back at the Court for a third time in a case regarding the Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandate compelling employers to include coverage of contraceptives and abortifacients in their healthcare plans.
The Court said the order of Roman Catholic nuns did not have to violate their consciences and upheld two rules issued by the U.S. Department of Human Services that gave them an exemption from the ACA mandate on religious and moral grounds. The state of Pennsylvania had sued the federal government to take away that exemption.
Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg dissented.
Moore commented on the ruling, “The Little Sisters never wanted to be in court, and are not in any way political activists. All they want is to carry out their mission of serving the poorest and most vulnerable among us. One need not agree with the Sisters on their theological or moral beliefs to recognize that a free country should allow them to serve without state harassment.”
IBSA is currently involved in a lawsuit that challenges an Illinois law, the Reproductive Health Act, which requires health insurance policies sold in the state to provide coverage for elective chemical and surgical abortions, with no exemptions even for churches.