After one of its cases being heard before the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday, a religious liberty law firm is feeling good about its chances.
"With respect to how the argument went [on Monday], there seemed to be a pretty wide agreement among the justices that it's important to protect the freedom of religious groups to choose who teaches the faith for the next generation," said attorney Eric Rassbach of Becket during a press call Monday about Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru.
That case, which is consolidated with St. James School v. Biel, involves Kristen Biel and Agnes Morrissey-Berru, former fifth-grade teachers at Catholic schools in California. The question for the justices is whether the schools are exempt from being sued as a result of a unanimous 2012 Supreme Court ruling that said the Constitution prevents ministers from suing their churches for employment discrimination.
A lower court said both lawsuits could go forward, but the schools appealed.
Morrissey-Berru claims her contract was not renewed in 2015 based on the fact that she was in her sixties. Biel, meanwhile, alleged disability discrimination after she informed the school that she had cancer.
Becket, the religious liberty law firm representing the schools, sees things differently:
"After concerns about the effectiveness of their teaching, observations of poor classroom management, and an unwillingness by the teachers to improve, both schools chose not to give the teachers new one-year contracts because they were not effectively carrying out the schools' religious and educational mission. Becket argues that the government has no place interfering with the internal decisions of religious organizations about who best teaches the faith to the next generation."
Adrian Marquez Alarcon, spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles Catholic Schools, said this during the press call with Becket law:
"It essential for our schools to have the freedom to be sensitive to the needs of their faith community, and to make decisions about who is the best fit to teach religion to their students. Government does not know the needs of a faith community, and it cannot pick religion teachers."
Kristen Biel died last year at the age of 54.
Jeffrey Fisher, an attorney for Biel and Morrissey-Berru, told The Associated Press that if his clients lose, it could have "innumerable, cascading consequences" on employees of religious institutions. According to Fisher, employment law protections could be denied to nurses at religiously affiliated hospitals, summer camps, and social service centers.
For more details, see Becket page on these two cases
Editor's note: Image above compliments of BecketLaw.org.