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.



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Sadly, non-profits often have poor HR practices

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Unfortunately my experience with non-profits has been that they're just as likely to screw their employees as for-profits* but they'll whine sanctimoniously about their mission when they get called on it.

*Perhaps more likely given the constant budget crunches.

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The US Supreme court set precedent in this area recently

The US Supreme court set precedent in this area recently with a similar decision. Schools run by religious institutions are allowed under the Constitution (according to the decision) to violate a bunch of different employment laws because the state shouldn't interfere with their freedom of religion.

I can't recall the plaintiff's complaint in the Supreme Court decision but it had to do with employment and a situation where the school would have had to act differently if it were not a religious school but NOT directly related to religious instruction.

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By on today's irony alert, while the state can't interfere with religious institutions, some officials in state/federal government institutions have no problem pushing their religious beliefs on to the rest of us and interfering with our lives...hmmmmmm

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