(July 8, 2020 / 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 importance of religious autonomy, particularly in the context of religious schools, cannot be overemphasized,” said Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel of America’s vice president of government affairs and Washington counsel, in a statement. “The hiring rights of these institutions is so fundamental to their character and mission that government interference in these matters could undermine the very purpose for a religious entity’s existence.”
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.
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.https://t.co/hZ1P5wJUqp
— ✡ Jewish Dems ????(@USJewishDems) July 8, 2020
Support Jewish Journalism
with 2020 Vision
One of the most intriguing stories of the sudden Coronavirus crisis is the role of the internet. With individuals forced into home quarantine, most are turning further online for information, education and social interaction.
JNS's influence and readership are growing exponentially, and our positioning sets us apart. Most Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas. JNS is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.
During this crisis, JNS continues working overtime. We are being relied upon to tell the story of this crisis as it affects Israel and the global Jewish community, and explain the extraordinary political developments taking place in parallel.
Our ability to thrive in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters. Monthly donations in particular go a long way in helping us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make during these challenging times. We thank you for your ongoing support and wish you blessings for good health and peace of mind.