Justice Sotomayor disputed that. “The time Biel and Morrissey-Berru spent on secular instruction far surpassed their time teaching religion,” she wrote. “For the vast majority of class, they taught subjects like reading, writing, spelling, grammar, vocabulary, math, science, social studies and geography.”
“Both Biel and Morrissey-Berru had almost exclusively secular duties,” Justice Sotomayor wrote, “making it especially improper to deprive them of all legal protection when their employers have not offered any religious reason for the alleged discrimination.”
Federal trial judges had dismissed both cases, saying the ministerial exception protected the schools. But the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, reversed those rulings, allowing the cases to proceed.
In separate decisions, the appeals court said the teachers were not covered by the exception established by the 2012 decision because they were not considered ministers by either themselves or their employers, as reflected in their job titles.
Justice Sotomayor wrote that the decision would affect employees other than teachers, mentioning “coaches, camp counselors, nurses, social-service workers, in-house lawyers, media relations personnel and many others who work for religious institutions.”
“All these employees could be subject to discrimination for reasons completely irrelevant to their employers’ religious tenets,” she wrote. “The inherent injustice in the court’s conclusion will be impossible to ignore for long, particularly in a pluralistic society like ours.”