US Supreme Court: Schools can make staffing decisions on faith grounds

Religious schools can continue to make staffing decisions on faith grounds, the US Supreme Court has ruled.

The case was brought by two Roman Catholic schools in California and Justices Thomas and Gorsuch wrote in a concurring opinion that the ruling preserved a “religious group’s right to shape its own faith and mission through its appointments”.

Religious liberty group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) said that the judges “ruled in accordance” with constitutional protections for religious establishments from government interference.


Lawyers for the schools argued that the employment of teachers is covered by ‘ministerial exemption’, which ensures that religious institutions can decide who they want to teach pupils about matters of faith.

On Wednesday the US Supreme Court determined that the exemption does apply to staffing decisions.

ADF welcomed the ruling and said it “respected the autonomy of faith-based schools and prevented the government from interfering”.

John Bursch, ADF Senior Counsel, added: “The court’s decision today clears up disagreements in the lower courts about the right way to define ‘minister’, concluding that any definition should be primarily based on the religious functions an employee is asked to perform”.


In May, the US Department of Labor (DOL) issued guidance protecting the right of religious organisations to be able to access public funding.

It implements the Executive Order ‘Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty’, by ensuring that religious organisations are not discriminated against when applying for grants.

The DOL states that receiving financial assistance does not affect the rights of such institutions to “govern themselves and to select board members on a religious basis”.

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