Court Justice Law

Supreme Court conservatives say religious groups should be free to hire only like-minded believers

Two of the Supreme Court’s conservatives said Monday that religious organizations should be fully exempt from nondiscrimination laws and free to hire only people who share their beliefs.

Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito made their views known as the court declined to take up a dispute over a Seattle religious nonprofit group’s refusal to hire an applicant who was in a same-sex relationship. They agreed the case was at a preliminary stage and not yet ripe for their review, but they said the court should confront the issue in a future case.

Writing for both of them, Alito strongly suggested how they would rule in such a dispute: “To force religious organizations to hire messengers and other personnel who do not share their religious views would undermine not only the autonomy of many religious organizations but also their continued viability.”

Churches and religious institutions have a right to employ only people who agree with their religious views, the court has held, provided that the employees at issue perform a ministerial function. That means imparting religious doctrine, for example, or carrying out other kinds of duties that a cleric would perform.

The Seattle case presented an invitation to consider whether a religious nonprofit organization can require all employees to hold the same religious beliefs, regardless of whether they perform a strictly ministerial function.

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