WASHINGTON (JNS) – Jewish groups expressed mixed reactions to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Wednesday after it considered multiple cases on protection for religious schools against employment discrimination claims.
Writing for the 7-2 majority in the combination of cases—St. James School v. Biel and Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berrum—Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito penned, “Religious education is a matter of central importance in Judaism. As explained in briefs submitted by Jewish organizations, the Torah is understood to require Jewish parents to ensure that their children are instructed in the faith. One brief quotes Maimonides’s statement that religious instruction ‘is an obligation of the highest order, entrusted only to a schoolteacher possessing ‘fear of Heaven.’ ”
Howard Slugh, founder and general counsel for the Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty, told JNS that “the Supreme Court rejected the plaintiffs’ view that the Ministerial Exception should be limited to Lutheran Ministers or those in very similar positions,” and that “the decision will help ensure that religious communities can choose their own leaders and pass the faith onto the next generation without government interference.”
Referring to the First Amendment, he said “the Establishment Clause surely prevents the government from choosing the leaders who will minister to the faithful and teach religion to our children [and] today’s decision is essential to maintaining that protection.”
In a statement, Nathan Diament, the Orthodox Union’s executive director for public policy, noted that “the U.S. Supreme Court upheld fundamental principles of religious freedom in the United States. The Court ensured that religious communities may form houses of worship, parochial schools and other institutions whose missions are to be places of worship, learning and service for a faith community and that such institutions are constitutionally protected from interference by the secular state. These First Amendment principles are essential for America to continue to be a place in which religious freedom and diversity thrive.”
Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce founder and CEO Duvi Honig said in a statement, “At a time when democracy and freedom is so often used as a cudgel against religious Americans, it is great to see the Supreme Court reaffirm our protections in employment and other key areas of life.”
The American Jewish Committee also applauded the decision.
“We’re pleased,” AJC chief legal officer Marc Stern told Jewish Insider. “It’s also surprising that you had a 7-2 decision and not a 5-4 decision, which has come to characterize decisions about the religion clause of the Constitution. It shows there are still some issues on which it’s possible to have a broader array of justices reaching a decision.”
“It’s a long-standing position of the AJC that religious groups ought to be free within very broad limits to shape the way they pass the faith on to others,” continued Stern. “It’s not the government’s business to tell churches, synagogues, mosques, temples how they pass the faith on to the next generation.”
Nonetheless, he cautioned, “it behooves schools not to abuse [the] privilege” the court granted them in this case.
The Jewish Democratic Council of America slammed the decision.
“Today’s #SCOTUS decision on religious freedom sets a dangerous precedent. Schools shouldn’t be allowed to discriminate against teachers and staff, and deny Americans of access to contraception,” tweeted JDCA, with the latter referring to another Supreme Court decision on Wednesday that upheld exemptions to Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare,” that allowed employers to not give contraceptives to their employees if doing so goes against an employer’s religious beliefs.