NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in the preliminary print of the United States Reports. Readers are requested to notify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Court of the United States, Washington, D. C. 20543, of any typographical or other formal errors, in order that corrections may be made before the preliminary print goes to press.
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
Nos. 19–267 and 19–348
OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE SCHOOL, PETITIONER
ST. JAMES SCHOOL, PETITIONER
DARRYL BIEL, as personal representative of the ESTATE OF KRISTEN BIEL
on writs of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the ninth circuit
[July 8, 2020]
Justice Alito delivered the opinion of the Court.
These cases require us to decide whether the
First Amendment permits courts to intervene in employment disputes involving teachers at religious schools who are entrusted with the responsibility of instructing their students in the faith. The
First Amendment protects the right of religious institutions “to decide for themselves, free from state interference, matters of church government as well as those of faith and doctrine.” Kedroff
v. Saint Nicholas Cathedral of Russian Orthodox Church in North America
344 U.S. 94
, 116 (1952). Applying this principle, we held in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School
565 U.S. 171
(2012), that the
First Amendment barred a court from entertaining an employment discrimination claim brought by an elementary school teacher, Cheryl Perich, against the religious school where she taught. Our decision built on a line of lower court cases adopting what was dubbed the “ministerial exception” to laws governing the employment relationship between a religious institution and certain key employees. We did not announce “a rigid formula” for determining whether an employee falls within this exception, but we identified circumstances that we found relevant in that case, including Perich’s title as a “Minister of Religion, Commissioned,” her educational training, and her responsibility to teach religion and participate with students in religious activities. Id.
, at 190–191.
In the cases now before us, we consider employment discrimination claims brought by two elementary school teachers at Catholic schools whose teaching responsibilities are similar to Perich’s. Although these teachers were not given the title of “minister” and have less religious training than Perich, we hold that their cases fall within the same rule that dictated our decision in Hosanna-Tabor
. The religious education and formation of students is the very reason for the existence of most private religious schools, and therefore the selection and supervision of the teachers upon whom the schools rely to do this work lie at the core of their mission. Judicial review of the way in which religious schools discharge those responsibilities would undermine the independence of religious institutions in a way that the
First Amendment does not tolerate.
The first of the two cases we now decide involves Agnes Morrissey-Berru, who was employed at Our Lady of Guadalupe School (OLG), a Roman Catholic primary school in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Excerpts of Record (ER) 58 in No. 17–56624 (CA9) (OLG).[1
] For many years, Morrissey-Berru was employed at OLG as a lay fifth or sixth grade teacher. Like most elementary school teachers, she taught all subjects, and since OLG is a Catholic school, the curriculum included religion. App. 23, 75. As a result, she was her students’ religion teacher.
Morrissey-Berru earned a B. A. in English Language Arts, with a minor in secondary education, and she holds a California teaching credential. Id
., at 21–22. While on the faculty at OLG, she took religious education courses at the school’s request, ER 41–ER 42, ER 44–ER 45, ER 276, and was expected to attend faculty prayer services, App. to Pet. for Cert. in No. 19–267, p. 87a.[2
Each year, Morrissey-Berru and OLG entered into an employment agreement, App. 21,[3
] that set out the school’s “mission” and Morrissey-Berru’s duties. See, e.g
, at 154–164.[4
] The agreement stated that the school’s mission was “to develop and promote a Catholic School Faith Community,” id.
, at 154, and it informed Morrissey-Berru that “[a]ll [her] duties and responsibilities as a Teache[r were to] be performed within this overriding commitment.” Ibid.
The agreement explained that the school’s hiring and retention decisions would be guided by its Catholic mission, and the agreement made clear that teachers were expected to “model and promote” Catholic “faith and morals.” Id.
, at 155. Under the agreement, Morrissey-Berru was required to participate in “[s]chool liturgical activities, as requested,” ibid.
and the agreement specified that she could be terminated “for ‘cause’ ” for failing to carry out these duties or for “conduct that brings discredit upon the School or the Roman Catholic Church.” Id.
, at 155–157. The agreement required compliance with the faculty handbook, which sets out similar expectations. Id
., at 156; App. to Pet. for Cert. in No. 19–267, at 52a–55a. The pastor of the parish, a Catholic priest, had to approve Morrissey-Berru’s hiring each year. Id.
, at 14a; see also App. 164.
Like all teachers in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Morrissey-Berru was “considered a catechist,” i.e.
“a teacher of religio[n].” App. to Pet. for Cert. in No. 19–267, at 56a, 60a. Catechists are “responsible for the faith formation of the students in their charge each day.” Id
., at 56a. Morrissey-Berru provided religious instruction every day using a textbook designed for use in teaching religion to young Catholic students. Id
., at 45a–51a, 90a–92a; see App. 79–80. Under the prescribed curriculum, she was expected to teach students, among other things, “to learn and express belief that Jesus is the son of God and the Word made flesh”; to “identify the ways” the church “carries on the mission of Jesus”; to “locate, read and understand stories from the Bible”; to “know the names, meanings, signs and symbols of each of the seven sacraments”; and to be able to “explain the communion of saints.” App. to Pet. for Cert. in No. 19–267, at 91a–92a. She tested her students on that curriculum in a yearly exam. Id
., at 87a. She also directed and produced an annual passion play. Id.
, at 26a.
Morrissey-Berru prepared her students for participation in the Mass and for communion and confession. Id
., at 68a, 81a, 88a–89a. She also occasionally selected and prepared students to read at Mass. Id
., at 83a, 89a. And she was expected to take her students to Mass once a week and on certain feast days (such as the Feast Day of St. Juan Diego, All Saints Day, and the Feast of Our Lady), and to take them to confession and to pray the Stations of the Cross. Id
., at 68a–69a, 83a, 88a. Each year, she brought them to the Catholic Cathedral in Los Angeles, where they participated as altar servers. Id
., at 95a–96a. This visit, she explained, was “an important experience” because “[i]t is a big honor” for children to “serve the altar” at the cathedral. Id
., at 96a.
Morrissey-Berru also prayed with her students. Her class began or ended every day with a Hail Mary. Id
., at 87a. She led the students in prayer at other times, such as when a family member was ill. Id
., at 21a, 81a, 86a–87a. And she taught them to recite the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed, as well as prayers for specific purposes, such as in connection with the sacrament of confession. Id
., at 20a–21a, 92a.
The school reviewed Morrissey-Berru’s performance under religious standards. The “ ‘Classroom Observation Report’ ” evaluated whether Catholic values were “infused through all subject areas” and whether there were religious signs and displays in the classroom. Id.
, at 94a, 95a; App. 59. Morrissey-Berru testified that she tried to instruct her students “in a manner consistent with the teachings of the Church,” App. to Pet. for Cert. in No. 19–267, at 96a, and she said that she was “committed to teaching children Catholic values” and providing a “faith-based education.” Id
., at 82a. And the school principal confirmed that Morrissey-Berru was expected to do these things.[5
In 2014, OLG asked Morrissey-Berru to move from a full-time to a part-time position, and the next year, the school declined to renew her contract. She filed a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), received a right-to-sue letter, App. 169, and then filed suit under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967,
602, as amended,
29 U. S. C. §621 et seq.
claiming that the school had demoted her and had failed to renew her contract so that it could replace her with a younger teacher. App. 168–169.
The school maintains that it based its decisions on classroom performance—specifically, Morrissey-Berru’s difficulty in administering a new reading and writing program, which had been introduced by the school’s new principal as part of an effort to maintain accreditation and improve the school’s academic program. App. to Pet. for Cert. in No. 19–267, at 66a–67a, 70a, 73a.
Invoking the “ministerial exception” that we recognized in Hosanna-Tabor
, OLG successfully moved for summary judgment, but the Ninth Circuit reversed in a brief opinion. 769 Fed. Appx. 460, 461 (2019). The court acknowledged that Morrissey-Berru had “significant religious responsibilities” but reasoned that “an employee’s duties alone are not dispositive under Hosanna-Tabor
’s framework.” Ibid
. Unlike Perich, the court noted, Morrissey-Berru did not have the formal title of “minister,” had limited formal religious training, and “did not hold herself out to the public as a religious leader or minister.” Ibid
. In the court’s view, these “factors” outweighed the fact that she was invested with significant religious responsibilities. Ibid
. The court therefore held that Morrissey-Berru did not fall within the “ministerial exception.” OLG filed a petition for certiorari, and we granted review.
The second case concerns the late Kristen Biel, who worked for about a year and a half as a lay teacher at St. James School, another Catholic primary school in Los Angeles. For part of one academic year, Biel served as a long-term substitute teacher for a first grade class, and for one full year she was a full-time fifth grade teacher. App. 336–337. Like Morrissey-Berru, she taught all subjects, including religion. Id
., at 288; ER 588 in No. 17–55180 (CA9) (St. James).[6
Biel had a B. A. in liberal studies and a teaching credential. App. 244. During her time at St. James, she attended a religious conference that imparted “[d]ifferent techniques on teaching and incorporating God” into the classroom. Id
., at 260–262. Biel was Catholic.[7
Biel’s employment agreement was in pertinent part nearly identical to Morrissey-Berru’s. Compare id.
, at 154–164, with id.
, at 320–329. The agreement set out the same religious mission; required teachers to serve that mission; imposed commitments regarding religious instruction, worship, and personal modeling of the faith; and explained that teachers’ performance would be reviewed on those bases.
Biel’s agreement also required compliance with the St. James faculty handbook, which resembles the OLG handbook. Id.
, at 322. Compare ER 641–ER 651 (OLG) with ER 565–ER 597 (St. James). The St. James handbook defines “religious development” as the school’s first goal and provides that teachers must “mode[l] the faith life,” “exemplif[y] the teachings of Jesus Christ,” “integrat[e] Catholic thought and principles into secular subjects,” and “prepar[e] students to receive the sacraments.” Id.,
at ER 570–ER 572. The school principal confirmed these expectations.[8
Like Morrissey-Berru, Biel instructed her students in the tenets of Catholicism. She was required to teach religion for 200 minutes each week, App. 257–258, and administered a test on religion every week, id.
, at 256–257. She used a religion textbook selected by the school’s principal, a Catholic nun. Id.
, at 255; ER 37 (St. James). The religious curriculum covered “the norms and doctrines of the Catholic Faith, including . . . the sacraments of the Catholic Church, social teachings according to the Catholic Church, morality, the history of Catholic saints, [and] Catholic prayers.” App. to Pet. for Cert. in No. 19–348, p. 83a.
Biel worshipped with her students. At St. James, teachers are responsible for “prepar[ing] their students to be active participants at Mass, with particular emphasis on Mass responses,” ER 587, and Biel taught her students about “Catholic practices like the Eucharist and confession,” id
., at ER 226–ER 227. At monthly Masses, she prayed with her students. App. to Pet. for Cert. in No. 19–348, at 82a, 94a–96a. Her students participated in the liturgy on some occasions by presenting the gifts (bringing bread and wine to the priest). Ibid
Teachers at St. James were “required to pray with their students every day,” id.
, at 80a–81a, 110a, and Biel observed this requirement by opening and closing each school day with prayer, including the Lord’s Prayer or a Hail Mary, id
., at 81a–82a, 93a, 110a.
As at OLG, teachers at St. James are evaluated on their fulfillment of the school’s religious mission. Id.
, at 83a–84a. St. James used the same classroom observation standards as OLG and thus examined whether teachers “infus[ed]” Catholic values in all their teaching and included religious displays in their classrooms. Id
., at 83a–84a, 92a. The school’s principal, a Catholic nun, evaluated Biel on these measures. Id
., at 106a.
St. James declined to renew Biel’s contract after one full year at the school. She filed charges with the EEOC, and after receiving a right-to-sue letter, brought this suit, alleging that she was discharged because she had requested a leave of absence to obtain treatment for breast cancer. App. 337–338. The school maintains that the decision was based on poor performance—namely, a failure to observe the planned curriculum and keep an orderly classroom. See id.
, at 303; App. to Pet. for Cert. in No. 19–348, at 85a–89a, 114a–115a, 120a–121a.
Like OLG, St. James obtained summary judgment under the ministerial exception, id.
, at 74a, but a divided panel of the Ninth Circuit reversed, reasoning that Biel lacked Perich’s “credentials, training, [and] ministerial background,” 911 F.3d 603, 608 (2018).
Judge D. Michael Fisher, sitting by designation, dissented. Considering the totality of the circumstances, he would have held that the ministerial exception applied “because of the substance reflected in [Biel’s] title and the important religious functions she performed” as a “stewar[d] of the Catholic faith to the children in her class.” Id
., at 621, 622.
An unsuccessful petition for rehearing en banc ensued. Judge Ryan D. Nelson, joined by eight other judges, dissented. 926 F.3d 1238, 1239 (2019). Judge Nelson faulted the panel majority for “embrac[ing] the narrowest construction” of the ministerial exception, departing from “the consensus of our sister circuits that the employee’s ministerial function should be the key focus,” and demanding nothing less than a “carbon copy” of the specific facts in Hosanna-Tabor
. We granted review and consolidated the case with OLG’s. 589 U. S. ___ (2019).
First Amendment provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Among other things, the Religion Clauses protect the right of churches and other religious institutions to decide matters “ ‘of faith and doctrine’ ” without government intrusion. Hosanna-Tabor
, 565 U. S., at 186 (quoting Kedroff
, 344 U. S., at 116). State interference in that sphere would obviously violate the free exercise of religion, and any attempt by government to dictate or even to influence such matters would constitute one of the central attributes of an establishment of religion. The
First Amendment outlaws such intrusion.
The independence of religious institutions in matters of “faith and doctrine” is closely linked to independence in what we have termed “ ‘matters of church government.’ ” 565 U. S., at 186. This does not mean that religious institutions enjoy a general immunity from secular laws, but it does protect their autonomy with respect to internal management decisions that are essential to the institution’s central mission. And a component of this autonomy is the selection of the individuals who play certain key roles.
The “ministerial exception” was based on this insight. Under this rule, courts are bound to stay out of employment disputes involving those holding certain important positions with churches and other religious institutions. The rule appears to have acquired the label “ministerial exception” because the individuals involved in pioneering cases were described as “ministers.” See McClure
v. Salvation Army
, 460 F.2d 553, 558–559 (CA5 1972); Rayburn
v. General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists
, 772 F.2d 1164, 1168 (CA4 1985). Not all pre-Hosanna-Tabor
decisions applying the exception involved “ministers” or even members of the clergy. See, e.g
v. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
, 651 F.2d 277, 283–284 (CA5 1981); EEOC
v. Roman Catholic Diocese of Raleigh
, N. C
., 213 F.3d 795
, 800–801 (CA4 2000). But it is instructive to consider why a church’s independence on matters “of faith and doctrine” requires the authority to select, supervise, and if necessary, remove a minister without interference by secular authorities. Without that power, a wayward minister’s preaching, teaching, and counseling could contradict the church’s tenets and lead the congregation away from the faith.[9
] The ministerial exception was recognized to preserve a church’s independent authority in such matters.
When the so-called ministerial exception finally reached this Court in Hosanna-Tabor
, we unanimously recognized that the Religion Clauses foreclose certain employment discrimination claims brought against religious organizations. 565 U. S., at 188. The constitutional foundation for our holding was the general principle of church autonomy to which we have already referred: independence in matters of faith and doctrine and in closely linked matters of internal government. The three prior decisions on which we primarily relied drew on this broad principle, and none was exclusively concerned with the selection or supervision of clergy. Watson
13 Wall. 679 (1872),
involved a dispute about the control of church property, and both Kedroff
344 U.S. 94
, and Serbian Eastern Orthodox Diocese for United States and Canada
426 U.S. 696
(1976), also concerned the control of property, as well as the appointment and authority of bishops.
In addition to these precedents, we looked to the “background” against which “the
First Amendment was adopted.” Hosanna-Tabor
, 565 U. S., at 183. We noted that 16th-century British statutes had given the Crown the power to fill high “religious offices” and to control the exercise of religion in other ways, and we explained that the founding generation sought to prevent a repetition of these practices in our country. Ibid
. Because Cheryl Perich, the teacher in Hosanna-Tabor
, had a title that included the word “minister,” we naturally concentrated on historical events involving clerical offices, but the abuses we identified were not limited to the control of appointments.
We pointed to the various Acts of Uniformity, id
., at 182, which dictated what ministers could preach and imposed penalties for non-compliance. Under the 1549 Act, a minister who “preach[ed,] declare[d,] or [spoke] any thing” in derogation of any part of the Book of Common Prayer could be sentenced to six months in jail for a first offense and life imprisonment for a third violation. Act of Uniformity, 2 & 3 Edw. 6, ch. 1. In addition, all other English subjects were forbidden to say anything against the Book of Common Prayer in “[i]nterludes[,] play[s,] song[s,] r[h]ymes, or by other open [w]ord[s].” Ibid.
A 1559 law contained similar prohibitions. See Act of Uniformity, 1 Eliz., ch. 2.
After the Restoration, Parliament enacted a new law with a similar aim. Ministers and “Lecturer[s]” were required to pledge “unfeigned assent and consent” to the Book of Common Prayer, and all schoolmasters, private tutors, and university professors were required to “conforme to the Liturgy of the Church of England” and not “to endeavour any change or alteration” of the church. Act of Uniformity, 1662, 14 Car. 2, ch. 4.
British law continued to impose religious restrictions on education in the 18th century and past the time of the adoption of the
First Amendment. The Schism or Established Church Act of 1714, 13 Ann., ch. 7, required that schoolmasters and tutors be licensed by a bishop. Non-conforming Protestants, as well as Catholics and Jews, could not teach at or attend the two universities, and as Blackstone wrote, “[p]ersons professing the popish religion [could] not keep or teach any school under pain of perpetual imprisonment.” 4 W. Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England 55 (8th ed. 1778). The law also imposed penalties on “any person [who] sen[t] another abroad to be educated in the popish religion . . . or [who] contribute[d] to their maintenance when there.” Id
., at 55–56.
British colonies in North America similarly controlled both the appointment of clergy, see Hosanna-Tabor
, 565 U. S., at 183, and the teaching of students. A Maryland law “prohibited any Catholic priest or lay person from keeping school, or taking upon himself the education of youth.” 2 T. Hughes, History of the Society of Jesus in North America: Colonial and Federal 443–444 (1917). In 1771, the Governor of New York was instructed to require that all schoolmasters arriving from England obtain a license from the Bishop of London. 3 C. Lincoln, The Constitutional History of New York 485, 745 (1906). New York law also required an oath and license for any “ ‘vagrant Preacher, Moravian, or disguised Papist’ ” to “ ‘Preach or Teach, Either in Public or Private.’ ” S. Cobb, The Rise of Religious Liberty in America 358 (1902).
Cheryl Perich, a kindergarten and fourth grade teacher at an Evangelical Lutheran school, filed suit in federal court, claiming that she had been discharged because of a disability, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA),
42 U. S. C. §12112(a). The school responded that the real reason for her dismissal was her violation of the Lutheran doctrine that disputes should be resolved internally and not by going to outside authorities. We held that her suit was barred by the “ministerial exception” and noted that it “concern[ed] government interference with an internal church decision that affects the faith and mission of the church.” 565 U. S., at 190. We declined “to adopt a rigid formula for deciding when an employee qualifies as a minister,” and we added that it was “enough for us to conclude, in this our first case involving the ministerial exception, that the exception covers Perich, given all the circumstances of her employment.” Id.
, at 190–191. We identified four relevant circumstances but did not highlight any as essential.
First, we noted that her church had given Perich the title of “minister, with a role distinct from that of most of its members.” Id.
, at 191. Although she was not a minister in the usual sense of the term—she was not a pastor or deacon, did not lead a congregation, and did not regularly conduct religious services—she was classified as a “called” teacher, as opposed to a lay teacher, and after completing certain academic requirements, was given the formal title “ ‘Minister of Religion, Commissioned.’ ” Id
., at 177–178, 191.
Second, Perich’s position “reflected a significant degree of religious training followed by a formal process of commissioning.” Id.
, at 191.
Third, “Perich held herself out as a minister of the Church by accepting the formal call to religious service, according to its terms,” and by claiming certain tax benefits. Id.
, at 191–192.
Fourth, “Perich’s job duties reflected a role in conveying the Church’s message and carrying out its mission.” Id.
, at 192. The church charged her with “ ‘lead[ing] others toward Christian maturity’ ” and “ ‘teach[ing] faithfully the Word of God, the Sacred Scriptures, in its truth and purity and as set forth in all the symbolical books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.’ ” Ibid.
Although Perich also provided instruction in secular subjects, she taught religion four days a week, led her students in prayer three times a day, took her students to a chapel service once a week, and participated in the liturgy twice a year. “As a source of religious instruction,” we explained, “Perich performed an important role in transmitting the Lutheran faith to the next generation.” Ibid.
The case featured two concurrences. In the first, Justice Thomas stressed that courts should “defer to a religious organization’s good-faith understanding of who qualifies as its minister.” Id
., at 196. That is so, Justice Thomas explained, because “[a] religious organization’s right to choose its ministers would be hollow . . . if secular courts could second-guess” the group’s sincere application of its religious tenets. Id.
, at 197.
The second concurrence argued that application of the “ministerial exception” should “focus on the function performed by persons who work for religious bodies” rather than labels or designations that may vary across faiths. Id.
, at 198 (opinion of Alito, J., joined by Kagan, J.). This opinion viewed the title of “minister” as “relevant” but “neither necessary nor sufficient.” Id.
, at 202. It noted that “most faiths do not employ the term ‘minister’ ” and that some “consider the ministry to consist of all or a very large percentage of their members.” Ibid
. The opinion concluded that the “ ‘ministerial’ exception” “should apply to any ‘employee’ who leads a religious organization, conducts worship services or important religious ceremonies or rituals, or serves as a messenger or teacher of its faith.” Id
., at 199.
In determining whether a particular position falls within the Hosanna-Tabor
exception, a variety of factors may be important.[10
] The circumstances that informed our decision in Hosanna-Tabor
were relevant because of their relationship to Perich’s “role in conveying the Church’s message and carrying out its mission,” id
., at 192, but the other noted circumstances also shed light on that connection. In a denomination that uses the term “minister,” conferring that title naturally suggests that the recipient has been given an important position of trust. In Perich’s case, the title that she was awarded and used demanded satisfaction of significant academic requirements and was conferred only after a formal approval process, id
., at 191, and those circumstances also evidenced the importance attached to her role, ibid.
But our recognition of the significance of those factors in Perich’s case did not mean that they must be met—or even that they are necessarily important—in all other cases.
Take the question of the title “minister.” Simply giving an employee the title of “minister” is not enough to justify the exception. And by the same token, since many religious traditions do not use the title “minister,” it cannot be a necessary requirement. Requiring the use of the title would constitute impermissible discrimination, and this problem cannot be solved simply by including positions that are thought to be the counterparts of a “minister,” such as priests, nuns, rabbis, and imams. See Brief for Respondents 21. Nuns are not the same as Protestant ministers. A brief submitted by Jewish organizations makes the point that “Judaism has many ‘ministers,’ ” that is, “the term ‘minister’ encompasses an extensive breadth of religious functionaries in Judaism.”[11
] For Muslims, “an inquiry into whether imams or other leaders bear a title equivalent to ‘minister’ can present a troubling choice between denying a central pillar of Islam—i.e
., the equality of all believers—and risking loss of ministerial exception protections.”[12
If titles were all-important, courts would have to decide which titles count and which do not, and it is hard to see how that could be done without looking behind the titles to what the positions actually entail. Moreover, attaching too much significance to titles would risk privileging religious traditions with formal organizational structures over those that are less formal.
For related reasons, the academic requirements of a position may show that the church in question regards the position as having an important responsibility in elucidating or teaching the tenets of the faith. Presumably the purpose of such requirements is to make sure that the person holding the position understands the faith and can explain it accurately and effectively. But insisting in every case on rigid academic requirements could have a distorting effect. This is certainly true with respect to teachers. Teaching children in an elementary school does not demand the same formal religious education as teaching theology to divinity students. Elementary school teachers often teach secular subjects in which they have little if any special training. In addition, religious traditions may differ in the degree of formal religious training thought to be needed in order to teach. See, e.g
., Brief for Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention et al. as Amici Curiae
12 (“many Protestant groups have historically rejected any requirement of formal theological training”). In short, these circumstances, while instructive in Hosanna-Tabor
, are not inflexible requirements and may have far less significance in some cases.
What matters, at bottom, is what an employee does. And implicit in our decision in Hosanna-Tabor
was a recognition that educating young people in their faith, inculcating its teachings, and training them to live their faith are responsibilities that lie at the very core of the mission of a private religious school. As we put it, Perich had been entrusted with the responsibility of “transmitting the Lutheran faith to the next generation.” 565 U. S., at 192. One of the concurrences made the same point, concluding that the exception should include “any ‘employee’ who leads a religious organization, conducts worship services or important religious ceremonies or rituals, or serves as a messenger or teacher of its faith
., at 199 (opinion of Alito, J.) (emphasis added).
Religious education is vital to many faiths practiced in the United States. This point is stressed by briefs filed in support of OLG and St. James by groups affiliated with a wide array of faith traditions. In the Catholic tradition, religious education is “ ‘intimately bound up with the whole of the Church’s life.’ ” Catechism of the Catholic Church 8 (2d ed. 2016). Under canon law, local bishops must satisfy themselves that “those who are designated teachers of religious instruction in schools . . . are outstanding in correct doctrine, the witness of a Christian life, and teaching skill.” Code of Canon Law, Canon 804, §2 (Eng. transl. 1998).
Similarly, Protestant churches, from the earliest settlements in this country, viewed education as a religious obligation. A core belief of the Puritans was that education was essential to thwart the “chief project of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures.”[13
] Thus, in 1647, the Massachusetts General Court passed what has been called the Old Deluder Satan Act requiring every sizable town to establish a school.[14
Most of the oldest educational institutions in this country were originally established by or affiliated with churches, and in recent years, non-denominational Christian schools have proliferated with the aim of inculcating Biblical values in their students.[15
] Many such schools expressly set themselves apart from public schools that they believe do not reflect their values.[16
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.[17
] 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.’ ”[18
] “The contemporary American Jewish community continues to place the education of children in its faith and rites at the center of its communal efforts.”[19
Religious education is also important in Islam. “[T]he acquisition of at least rudimentary knowledge of religion and its duties [is] mandatory for the Muslim individual.”[20
] This precept is traced to the Prophet Muhammad, who proclaimed that “ ‘[t]he pursuit of knowledge is incumbent on every Muslim.’ ”[21
] “[T]he development of independent private Islamic schools ha[s] become an important part of the picture of Muslim education in America.”[22
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a long tradition of religious education, with roots in revelations given to Joseph Smith. See Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
§93:36 (2013). “The Church Board of Education has established elementary, middle, or secondary schools in which both secular and religious instruction is offered.”[23
Seventh-day Adventists “trace the importance of education back to the Garden of Eden.”[24
] Seventh-day Adventist formation “restore[s] human beings into the image of God as revealed by the life of Jesus Christ” and focuses on the development of “knowledge, skills, and understandings to serve God and humanity.”[25
This brief survey does not do justice to the rich diversity of religious education in this country, but it shows the close connection that religious institutions draw between their central purpose and educating the young in the faith.
When we apply this understanding of the Religion Clauses to the cases now before us, it is apparent that Morrissey-Berru and Biel qualify for the exemption we recognized in Hosanna-Tabor
. There is abundant record evidence that they both performed vital religious duties. Educating and forming students in the Catholic faith lay at the core of the mission of the schools where they taught, and their employment agreements and faculty handbooks specified in no uncertain terms that they were expected to help the schools carry out this mission and that their work would be evaluated to ensure that they were fulfilling that responsibility. As elementary school teachers responsible for providing instruction in all subjects, including religion, they were the members of the school staff who were entrusted most directly with the responsibility of educating their students in the faith. And not only were they obligated to provide instruction about the Catholic faith, but they were also expected to guide their students, by word and deed, toward the goal of living their lives in accordance with the faith. They prayed with their students, attended Mass with the students, and prepared the children for their participation in other religious activities. Their positions did not have all the attributes of Perich’s. Their titles did not include the term “minister,” and they had less formal religious training, but their core responsibilities as teachers of religion were essentially the same. And both their schools expressly saw them as playing a vital part in carrying out the mission of the church, and the schools’ definition and explanation of their roles is important. In a country with the religious diversity of the United States, judges cannot be expected to have a complete understanding and appreciation of the role played by every person who performs a particular role in every religious tradition. A religious institution’s explanation of the role of such employees in the life of the religion in question is important.
In holding that Morrissey-Berru and Biel did not fall within the Hosanna-Tabor
exception, the Ninth Circuit misunderstood our decision. Both panels treated the circumstances that we found relevant in that case as checklist items to be assessed and weighed against each other in every case, and the dissent does much the same. That approach is contrary to our admonition that we were not imposing any “rigid formula.” 565 U. S., at 190. Instead, we called on courts to take all relevant circumstances into account and to determine whether each particular position implicated the fundamental purpose of the exception.[26
The Ninth Circuit’s rigid test produced a distorted analysis. First, it invested undue significance in the fact that Morrissey-Berru and Biel did not have clerical titles. 769 Fed. Appx., at 460; 911 F. 3d, at 608–609; Post
, at 15–16. It is true that Perich’s title included the term “minister,” but we never said that her title (or her reference to herself as a “minister”) was necessary to trigger the Hosanna-Tabor
exception. Instead, “those considerations . . . merely made Perich’s case an especially easy one.” Brief for United States as Amicus Curiae
19. Moreover, both Morrissey-Berru and Biel had titles. They were Catholic elementary school teachers
, which meant that they were their students’ primary teachers of religion. The concept of a teacher of religion is loaded with religious significance. The term “rabbi” means teacher, and Jesus was frequently called rabbi.[27
] And if a more esoteric title is needed, they were both regarded as “catechists.”[28
Second, the Ninth Circuit assigned too much weight to the fact that Morrissey-Berru and Biel had less formal religious schooling than Perich. 769 Fed. Appx., at 460–461; 911 F. 3d, at 608; post
, at 16–17. The significance of formal training must be evaluated in light of the age of the students taught and the judgment of a religious institution regarding the need for formal training. The schools in question here thought that Morrissey-Berru and Biel had a sufficient understanding of Catholicism to teach their students,[29
] and judges have no warrant to second-guess that judgment or to impose their own credentialing requirements.
Third, the St. James
panel inappropriately diminished the significance of Biel’s duties because they did not evince “close guidance and involvement” in “students’ spiritual lives.” 911 F. 3d, at 609; post
, at 12, 17–18. Specifically, the panel majority suggested that Biel merely taught “religion from a book required by the school,” “joined” students in prayer, and accompanied students to Mass in order to keep them “ ‘quiet and in their seats.’ ” 911 F. 3d, at 609. This misrepresents the record and its significance. For better or worse, many primary school teachers tie their instruction closely to textbooks, and many faith traditions prioritize teaching from authoritative texts. See Brief for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship USA et al. as Amici Curiae
26; Brief for Senator Mike Lee et al. as Amici Curiae
24–27. As for prayer, Biel prayed with her students, taught them prayers, and supervised the prayers led by students. She prepared them for Mass, accompanied them to Mass, and prayed with them there. See supra
, at 8–9.
In Biel’s appeal, the Ninth Circuit suggested that the Hosanna-Tabor
exception should be interpreted narrowly because the ADA,
42 U. S. C. §12101 et seq.
, and Title VII, §2000e–2, contain provisions allowing religious employers to give preference to members of a particular faith in employing individuals to do work connected with their activities. 911 F. 3d, at 611, n. 5; post
, at 2–3. But the Hosanna-Tabor
exception serves an entirely different purpose. Think of the quintessential case where a church wants to dismiss its minister for poor performance. The church’s objection in that situation is not that the minister has gone over to some other faith but simply that the minister is failing to perform essential functions in a satisfactory manner.
While the Ninth Circuit treated the circumstances that we cited in Hosanna-Tabor
as factors to be assessed and weighed in every case, respondents would make the governing test even more rigid. In their view, courts should begin by deciding whether the first three circumstances—a ministerial title, formal religious education, and the employee’s self-description as a minister—are met and then, in order to check the conclusion suggested by those factors, ask whether the employee performed a religious function. Brief for Respondents 20–24. For reasons already explained, there is no basis for treating the circumstances we found relevant in Hosanna-Tabor
in such a rigid manner.
Respondents go further astray in suggesting that an employee can never come within the Hosanna-Tabor
exception unless the employee is a “practicing” member of the religion with which the employer is associated. Brief for Respondents 12–13, 21. In hiring a teacher to provide religious instruction, a religious school is very likely to try to select a person who meets this requirement, but insisting on this as a necessary condition would create a host of problems. As pointed out by petitioners, determining whether a person is a “co-religionist” will not always be easy. See Reply Brief 14 (“Are Orthodox Jews and non-Orthodox Jews co- religionists? . . . Would Presbyterians and Baptists be similar enough? Southern Baptists and Primitive Baptists?”). Deciding such questions would risk judicial entanglement in religious issues.
Expanding the “co-religionist” requirement, Brief for Respondents 28–29, 44, to exclude those who no longer practice the faith would be even worse, post
, at 13. Would the test depend on whether the person in question no longer considered himself or herself to be a member of a particular faith? Or would the test turn on whether the faith tradition in question still regarded the person as a member in some sense?
Respondents argue that Morrissey-Berru cannot fall within the Hosanna-Tabor
exception because she said in connection with her lawsuit that she was not “a practicing Catholic,” but acceptance of that argument would require courts to delve into the sensitive question of what it means to be a “practicing” member of a faith, and religious employers would be put in an impossible position. Morrissey-Berru’s employment agreements required her to attest to “good standing” with the church. See App. 91, 144, 154. Beyond insisting on such an attestation, it is not clear how religious groups could monitor whether an employee is abiding by all religious obligations when away from the job. Was OLG supposed to interrogate Morrissey-Berru to confirm that she attended Mass every Sunday?
Respondents argue that the Hosanna-Tabor
exception is not workable unless it is given a rigid structure, but we declined to adopt a “rigid formula” in Hosanna-Tabor
, and the lower courts have been applying the exception for many years without such a formula. Here, as in Hosanna-Tabor
, it is sufficient to decide the cases before us. When a school with a religious mission entrusts a teacher with the responsibility of educating and forming students in the faith, judicial intervention into disputes between the school and the teacher threatens the school’s independence in a way that the
First Amendment does not allow.
* * *
For these reasons, the judgment of the Court of Appeals in each case is reversed, and the cases are remanded for proceedings consistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.