The U.S. Supreme Court issued two rulings today, July 8, 2020, exempting religious employers from certain legal obligations toward employees on religious freedom grounds. The first is an exemption from birth control coverage and the second is from employment discrimination laws in certain circumstances.
The Court upheld two regulations issued by the Trump administration in 2018 (originally issued in 2017 but temporarily blocked by injunctions) that exempt employers from providing free birth control to their employees as part of their health care plans, a requirement under the Affordable Care Act, if they object for religious or moral reasons.
The landmark decision, potentially affecting millions of workers across the U.S., follows years of litigation regarding the contraception mandate. Interestingly, two liberal justices sided with the administration, Justices Kagan and Breyer, passing the decision 7-2. Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor dissented.
In another matter, the Supreme Court ruled that federal employment discrimination laws do not apply to teachers at religious schools.
Two cases were brought before the Court by California catholic school teachers suing for job discrimination. One sued under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), claiming that her contract was not renewed once the school found out she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She has since passed away. The other teacher sued her school for age discrimination.
The schools claimed that the “ministerial exception,” a doctrine established by the Supreme Court, exempted them from employment discrimination laws. The teachers countered that the schools were not covered by the exception since their teaching duties did not include religion or doctrine, and so they were not "ministers." But the Court held that it, and courts in general, cannot gauge the religious significance of titles or the sufficiency of training for purposes of the exemption.
Similar to the contraception case, the justices voted 7-2, with Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor in dissent.