Supreme Court Says Separation of Church and State Applies to Hiring Decisions – Confirms “Ministerial Exception”

Are religious institutions (i.e., churches) free to dismiss ministers without regard to federal employment discrimination laws? On January 11, 2012, a unanimous Supreme Court answered that question with a resounding “yes:”

“… the Courts of Appeals have uniformly recognized the existence of a ‘ministerial exception,’ grounded in the First Amendment, that precludes application of [employment discrimination] legislation to claims concerning the employment relationship between a religious institution and its ministers. We agree that there is such a ministerial exception.” (Supreme Court of the United States opinion in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC)

For your reference, here’s a first look at the SCOTUS ruling and its implications for religious institutions. We will update this list as additional commentary and analysis comes in:

Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. EEOC: U.S. Supreme Court Reaffirms The Ministerial Exception (Warner Norcross & Judd – Appellate Practice Group)

“… in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. EEOC, the United States Supreme Court reaffirmed the ministerial exception under the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses of the Constitution. The decision unanimously overturned a decision by the Sixth Circuit that a Lutheran school’s commissioned teacher was not a ‘minister’ for purposes of the ministerial exception. The Supreme Court’s decision vindicates religious organizations’ constitutional right to make decisions about who will perform ministerial functions free from governmental interference.” Read more»

U.S. Supreme Court Supports Fairly Broad “Ministerial Exception” to Anti-Discrimination Laws (Pullman & Comley, LLC)

“[T]he notion of a ‘ministerial exception’ being recognized by the Supreme Court isn’t that much of a surprise. To find otherwise, as the Court stated in its opinion, would be untenable and go against all of the Courts of Appeals. “We cannot accept the remarkable view that the Religion Clauses have nothing to say about a religious organization’s freedom to select its own ministers.” Read more»

U.S. Supreme Court Recognizes a “Ministerial Exception” Applies to Federal Anti-Discrimination Employment Laws (Jackson Walker)

“Relying on the First Amendment, the Court reasoned that permitting anti-discrimination lawsuits in such cases was an unconstitutional interference with a church’s right to control the selection of those who will personify its beliefs. Although it refused to adopt a rigid test as to who qualifies as a minister under this exception, it did set out a list of criteria for courts to consider.” Read more»

Supreme Court Rules: “Church Must Be Free To Choose Those Who Will Guide It On Its Way” (Fisher & Phillips LLP)

“The Court’s decision confirms that the ministerial exception bars ministers from bringing employment discrimination suits against their religious employers. However, it is important to note that the bar only applies to employment discrimination suits brought by ministers, not employment discrimination suits brought by other lay employees. Therefore, when taking into consideration whether the ministerial exception will apply to a given employment decision, religious employers must analyze whether the employee in question qualifies as a minister.” Read more»

U.S. Supreme Court Ruling Reaffirms Right of Religious Organizations to Hire, Fire (Warner Norcross & Judd – Michigan Employment Law)

The ruling “may set one of the largest precedents in religious liberty in the last century, according to Matt Nelson, who wrote an amicus brief for the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities in the case. [Nelson] said that the court’s ruling in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission et al reaffirms the constitutional right of religious organizations to make employment decisions involving ministers without governmental interference.” Read more»

United States Supreme Court Recognizes “Ministerial Exception” and Bars Certain Religious Employees from Bringing Employment Discrimination Claims (Cole Schotz)

“Issuing the Court’s opinion, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. wrote that ‘the interest of society and the enforcement of employment discrimination statutes is undoubtedly important … but so, too, is the interest of religious groups in choosing who will preach their beliefs, teach their faith and carry out their mission.’ The Court expressed concern that requiring churches to follow anti-discrimination laws could hinder their selection and retention of religious leaders.” Read more»

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