LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — The Archdiocese of Los Angeles hailed a Supreme Court ruling that teachers at two of its religious elementary schools in the South Bay were not entitled to assert discrimination claims against their employers as “a momentous day for religious liberty and for Catholic education.”

The cases, Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru and St. James School v. Biel, considered how broadly the “ministerial exception,” which prohibits courts from deciding certain employment disputes brought by ministers, applies to teachers at religious schools. The 7-2 ruling strengthened the exception the nation’s high court found in 2012 that protects religious organizations from certain employment lawsuits. Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented, saying the decision gave religious employers “free rein to discriminate.”

In Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, Agnes Morrissey-Berru sued the Hermosa Beach school for age discrimination after her teaching contract wasn’t renewed when she was in her 60s.

In St. James School v. Biel, Kristen Biel sued the Torrance school when her contract was not renewed after disclosing she was being treated for breast cancer. Biel claimed the school discriminated against her because of her illness, but the district court agreed with the school that Biel’s lawsuit was barred by the ministerial exception.

Biel, 54, died last year, after a five-year battle with breast cancer.

Both lawsuits were initially dismissed by Los Angeles federal judges, but an appeals court revived them.

Archdiocese spokeswoman Adrian M. Alarcon said Catholic schools are a core ministry of the church and that the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed their right to choose who may teach the faith.

“That is why we are so grateful today that the court has protected the integrity and vital independence of religious schools,” she said.

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