New Ways Ministry: SCOTUS Ruling on Religious Exemptions Leaves LGBTQ People Vulnerable

U.S. Supreme Court

The following is a statement from Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director, in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling about religious exemptions in employment law.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru and St. James School v. Biel not to protect workers at religious institutions from employment discrimination leaves many people, especially LGBTQ people, vulnerable to being fired by institutions that should be the model of fairness and equality, not bigotry and exclusion.  This decision is a sad and contradictory follow-up to the Court’s June 15th Title VII decision which sought to protect LGBTQ people from employment discrimination.

Although these two recent employment cases did not involve LGBTQ issues or people, the ruling bolsters church officials’ broad claim to a religious exemption from federal anti-discrimination law in a variety of situations, including cases involving sexual and gender minorities. Over the past decade, we have seen over 100 public cases where people have lost their jobs at Catholic schools and parishes because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, or support for LGBTQ people.  [For a listing of these cases click here; for resources on Catholic employment discrimination against LGBTQ people click here.] This record is shameful, especially given the Catholic Church’s teachings on respect for all people’s human dignity and defense of worker rights.

Whether or not civil law allows for religious institutions to discriminate against their employees, Catholic officials are answerable to the law of God to treat all people with equal respect. Their own teaching demands they respect the rights of workers.

As Pope Paul VI said, “All people have the right to work, to a chance to develop their qualities and their personalities in the exercise of their professions, to equitable remuneration which will enable them and their families to lead a worthy life on the material, social, cultural and spiritual level. . .” (Octogesima Adveniens, 14). The Catholic Church has an impressive record of defending the rights of workers in the secular world, supporting unions in their struggle for better working conditions and just wages. Yet, the church has not treated its employees with the same sense of fairness.

Catholics in the pews have strongly internalized these teachings on workers’ rights and see the wisdom in applying these approaches to LGBTQ people employed by church agencies. Every time an employee at a Catholic institution has lost a job because of LGBTQ issues, lay Catholics have protested the church’s unjust actions.  If Catholic leaders feel emboldened by this new ruling to continue firing LGBTQ people from their jobs, they will face an immense outcry from Catholics who want their church to act justly.

Even though the U.S. Supreme Court did not provide justice for LGBTQ employees in Catholic agencies, Catholic people in the pews will demand that their bishops and other leaders do so.  The struggle is not over. It has simply moved to another venue.

LGBTQ people serve in all sorts of capacities and roles in the church.  They are teachers, social workers, nuns, doctors, nurses, parish administrators, scholars, priests—and, yes, even bishops themselves. Were all LGBTQ people fired from their church jobs, the work of the church would come to a screeching halt.  Nothing would get done.

Singling out a person’s sexuality, gender identity, or marital status as the litmus tests for orthodoxy invalidates a person’s gift of labor to the church based on only one aspect of his or her life, ignoring all other professional, relational, spiritual gifts. This is blatant discrimination and the height of religious myopia.  Early Christians labeled this kind of thinking the Donatist heresy. They recognized, and the church still holds, that no person in the church—not even the pope—is ever free of sinfulness or in full agreement and harmony with all the church’s teaching. Yet, effective church service can still be performed by people that leaders think imperfect.

If bishops feel they have achieved a victory with this court ruling, they are sorely wrong.  If they exercise their new powers by continuing discriminatory employment practice, they not only will lose some of their best employees, but they will also lose what little respect lay Catholics still hold for the church’s leaders.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, July 9, 2020

4 replies
  1. John Calhoun
    John Calhoun says:

    Insofar as the Catholic Church is a “religion” law considers that it is owned and operated by a hierarchy (bishops). Many of this hierarchy’s “official teachings” go unsubscribed to and unobserved by, as much research shows, a significant number – a majority in some instances – of its practicing membership (laity). In the legal eye, the organization’s mission is defined and pursued by that hierarchy – no other input required. Given that the Church’s legal status reflects its still “official” pre-Vatican II ecclesiology, why should anyone assume “a beggar before the gate” status in such an organization? Jesus alone is the shepherd, the hierarchy is part of the flock too and in too many instances the hierarchy has preferred “not to be shepherds like Jesus but hirelings”. Watch “toxicity” .

    • John Hilgeman
      John Hilgeman says:


      I share your skepticism about the “official teachings” of the hierarchy.

      From what I have found online, there are approximately 70,400,000 Catholics in the US, and only 427 bishops – active and retired. There are somewhere around 1.285,000,000 Catholics in the world, with only 5353 bishops. My math is quite rusty, and am not sure what the percentages of each the bishops comprise. But it is obvious that the “official teachings” of those minuscule numbers of men, often quite ignorant of and out of touch with the lives of the masses of Catholics, and ignorant of science as well, are suspect.

      It seems highly unlikely that the creator of the universe has singled out those small numbers of men to define what is truth and moral for the rest of not only the masses of Catholics, but also for humanity as a whole. Especially since those men have often been so wrong in the past.

      We each must find our own way in the world, struggling with what information and experience we have, to make the best decisions in matters that are so often murky and grey.

      • John Calhoun
        John Calhoun says:

        Some teachings are more important than others – noteworthy for being “social control mechanisms” justified by past thinking. These are the “hot button” stands taken publicly. Bishops are less concerned about the laity’s ability to give account
        of the faith that’s within them than they are about governmental policy implications impacting the operations of their social service/medical/educational institutions. They’re institutional men worrying about institutional problems. They’re not known for anything exceptional – as teachers, scholars, or leaders in the Spirit… and that’s an element in why they were selected in the first place.

  2. Loretta
    Loretta says:

    The 7-2 SCOTUS decision based on two cases of employees allowed to be fired due to a cancer diagnosis and the other due to age, along with the birth control ruling, just eliminated FUTURE ministers not seeking employment in religious institutions. In short, they just shot themselves in the foot ,
    or perhaps the heart.


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