Monday, February 28, 2022

Cert. Denied In Ministerial Exception Case, With 4 Justices Expressing Concerns

The U.S. Supreme Court today denied review in Gordon College v. DeWeese-Boyd, (Docket No. 21-145, certiorari denied 2/28/2022) (Order List).  In the case, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that the ministerial exception does not apply in a suit by an associate professor of social work at a private Christian liberal arts college who claims her promotion to full professor was denied because of her vocal opposition to the school's policies on LGBTQ individuals. (See prior posting.) Justice Alito, joined by Justices Thomas, Kavanaugh and Barrett, filed an opinion (full text) concurring in the denial of certiorari, but expressing concern with the lower court's decision, saying in part:

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts held that this “ministerial exception” did not apply to a professor at a religious college who “did not teach religion or religious texts,” but who was still expected to “integrate her Christian faith into her teaching and scholarship.” ...  Although the state court’s understanding of religious education is troubling, I concur in the denial of the petition for a writ of certiorari because the preliminary posture of the litigation would complicate our review. But in an appropriate future case, this Court may be required to resolve this important question of religious liberty....

What many faiths conceive of as “religious education” includes much more than instruction in explicitly religious doctrine or theology.... [M]any religious schools ask their teachers to “show students how to view the world through a faith-based lens,” even when teaching nominally secular subjects.