The Supreme Court on Monday said two parochial school teachers could not contest their firings in federal court because of the constitutional protection allowing religious organisations to choose who teaches the faith.

The 7 to 2 decision affirms the “ministerial exception” that protects religious organisations from some lawsuits invoking federal anti-discrimination laws. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

Judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco had said two teachers could proceed with their lawsuits against Catholic schools in California.

One teacher alleged age discrimination, and another, now deceased and represented by her husband, said she was fired after informing the school that she had breast cancer.

“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,” Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote for the majority….

Conservatives on the Supreme Court have been more broadly supportive of religious rights and organizations. Last week, the court ruled that states that aid private schools may not exclude religious ones.

The teacher cases asked the court for further guidance on when an employee of a religious organization should be considered secular and, thus, able to take advantage of anti-discrimination laws — or religious, and thus unable to do so.

In a unanimous decision in 2012, the court said the “ministerial exception” meant that a former teacher at a Michigan Lutheran school could not sue her employer.

The decision said, in part, that the First Amendment protects religious organizations in deciding whom to employ to lead religious training. It added that courts should look not just at an employee’s title, but also duties, in deciding whether religious instruction was an important function of the job….