Court: First Amendment protects religious schools against discrimination claims by teachers
The Supreme Judicial Court today dismissed a complaint by a teacher at a Newton Hebrew school that she was fired because of her age, saying the First Amendment prohibits government from interfering in how religious organizations teach their young.
Gaye Hilsenrath, who had been a part-time teacher at Temple Emanuel's Hebrew school for more than 24 years, filed an age-discrimination complaint with the Mass. Commission Against Discrimination when the school let her go in 2007 as part of an overall reorganization.
In its ruling today, the state's highest court said a US Supreme Court ruling earlier this year that gave religious organizations a "ministerial exception" to workplace bias complaints applied in Hilsenrath's case:
In deciding whether the ministerial exception applies to a religious school teacher, the fundamental question is whether it would infringe the free exercise of religion or cause excessive entanglement between the State and a religious group if a court were to order a religious group to hire or retain a religious teacher that the religious group did not want to employ, or to order damages for refusing to do so. ... We conclude that it would. Where a school's sole mission is to serve as a religious school, the State should not intrude on a religious group's decision as to who should (and should not) teach its religion to the children of its members. Therefore, the ministerial exception applies to the school's employment decision regardless whether a religious teacher is called a minister or holds any title of clergy.