Religious liberty is one of America’s foundational freedoms — the first one enumerated in the Bill of Rights. Fortunately, two decisions by the U.S Supreme Court this week help to solidify its place of importance, turning back what could have been a troubling erosion.

In one case, the court affirmed Trump administration rules that extended a ministerial exemption from the Affordable Care Act to religiously affiliated companies. No longer will they be required to provide health coverage for birth control, should they find it morally objectionable.

This case is separate, and yet related in principle, to one several years ago in which the court ruled the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Catholic nuns that cares for sick elderly people and that was founded in 19th century France by Saint Jeanne Jugan, did not have to provide contraception as part of the health plan it provided to employees.

That case led the court to recognize a religious exemption to the Affordable Care Act. In this case, the court expanded that exemption.

The law’s conflicts with the Constitution’s guarantee of free religious exercise ought to have been obvious. Contraception is an issue about which churches preach, but it also is one about which many individuals hold deep, faith-informed beliefs. This includes people who own businesses, as well as businesses that are church-related. Requiring such people to provide this coverage would have given official government sanction to one side of that personal moral issue, effectively violating government neutrality on religious beliefs and inhibiting the free exercise of convictions.

Supreme Court upholds exemptions to the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate, a victory for religious objectors

The Trump administration argued successfully that providing health care “does not require banishing religious groups that refuse to surrender their beliefs from the public square.”

We would add that government has much to gain from such people and organizations, which tend to provide charitable service and donations that relieve taxpayers of many potential burdens.

The second case expanded religious employers’ exemptions from antidiscrimination laws. Specifically, they may determine which employees best further their faith-based mission, and they may terminate employees deemed to be at odds with that mission. The court’s decision means the faith-based obligation of employees is more important than whether they are trained or have a title denoting a ministerial position.

The decision involved two cases that focused on the ministerial exception that prohibits governments from interfering in matters between churches and their ministers.

“Requiring a church to accept or retain an unwanted minister, or punishing a church for failing to do so, intrudes upon more than a mere employment decision. Such action interferes with the internal governance of the church, depriving the church of control over the selection of those who will personify its beliefs,” said the court’s main decision, written by Justice Samuel Alito.

Significantly, this ruling offers an important clarification to another recent ruling that protected gay and transgender employees from workplace discrimination. Faith-based schools such as BYU, for instance, will be less exposed to lawsuits over LGBTQ-related policies and decisions.

Some are viewing these decisions as weakening the principle of a separation of church and state. In fact, the opposite is true. By increasing religious exemptions from government requirements, the court has kept government from intruding on, and thus weakening, the ability of religious people and churches to exercise their beliefs. It has stopped government from effectively deciding which religious beliefs are sanctioned and which are not.

That’s good news for faith-based people and institutions, and for the U.S. Constitution.