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Letters to the Editor: Discrimination is ungodly — yet religious freedom protects it?

St. James
The Supreme Court ruled that St. James Catholic School in Torrance cannot be sued for discrimination after it dismissed a teacher who needed to go on medical leave.
(Los Angeles Times)

To the editor: Society should not have the right to impose its values upon religious groups and institutions in the internal conduct of their religion. This was recognized unanimously by the Supreme Court in 2012 in a decision that exempted religious groups from employment discrimination laws, arguing that they must be free to choose and dismiss their leaders without government interference.

As a progressive Catholic, I want women priests and married priests, but I don’t want the state to tell the Roman Catholic hierarchy whom it should ordain as priests.

Unfortunately, some conservative religious groups have persuaded religious institutions to define their employees as ministers, regardless of whether that is part of their actual job description. This strategy won a significant victory Wednesday, when the Supreme Court upheld the dismissal of two Catholic school teachers, allowing the “ministerial exception” rule to apply even if it allowed discrimination on the basis of age or disability.

I found it shocking that the lawyers for these Catholic schools would argue by invoking the “ministerial exception” that the old and sick were unfit to play even the smallest formal role in teaching the Catholic faith. One assumes the clergy is exempt from this new doctrine.

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If religious employers can reclassify all their employees as “ministers” and strip them of their protections against any form of discrimination, religious freedom will be turned on its head and become the legal defense for any sort of discrimination.

Through the Supreme Court’s judgement, the Catholic hierarchy may have advanced its claims to an exaggerated autonomy that places the church above the law, but at the cost of what little moral credibility it has left.

Sheila Briggs, Claremont

The writer, an associate professor of religion and gender studies at USC, is a board member of Catholics for Choice.

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To the editor: Did anyone follow the money? The principal (a nun) at St. James Elementary School in Torrance who fired teacher Kristen Biel was later criminally charged with embezzling $500,000 from the school. When she fired Biel in 2014, was she more concerned about the cost of sick leave and salary of a longtime employee than the woman’s situation?

That point aside, I am a Catholic with 16 years of Catholic education. This Supreme Court decision allowing discrimination based on disability and age defies what I learned about morality in those years.

Mary Bradley Horwitz, Los Angeles

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To the editor: My faith in the U.S. Supreme Court has been shaken. This week it gave carte blanche to religious institutions that fired employees allegedly for being old or sick.

How could the high court disregard its precedent established in the 1983 case of Bob Jones University vs. United States?

As evangelicalism’s foremost college, BJU long cited biblical beliefs to bar its students from interracial dating and marriage. The Internal Revenue Service finally revoked BJU’s tax-exempt status in 1976, citing unlawful racial discrimination. The high court upheld that revocation, which remained in effect until 2000, when BJU finally rescinded its repugnant policy.

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Faith-based discrimination should not be shielded from judicial review in a society that upholds the rights of the elderly and the disabled.

Edward Alston, Santa Maria


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