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U.S. Supreme Court Rules Church Cannot Be Sued Over Employee Discrimination Claim

Alliance Defense Fund’s Bryan Beauman, reports the Supreme Court announced its unanimous decision in Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC. This case concerns the “ministerial exception” to an employment claim. In this case, a teacher at a Lutheran school in Redford Twp., Michigan, was terminated and then filed a complaint under the ADA. The school and church defended the claim arguing in part that her teaching duties were ministerial in nature and that the First Amendment prohibited the Court from hearing a suit by a minster against their church claiming a violation of employment discrimination laws. The Supreme Court had not previously addressed the existence of this ministerial exception but in this ruling clarified that the First Amendment prohibits such claims. In its ruling, the Court does not set forth a bright-line test concerning the limitations of who is to be considered a “minister” but held here that this teacher (with her formal title, the substance of that title, her own use of the title and the important religious functions she performed for the Church) was within the meaning of “minister.” Accordingly, the church and school were protected from suit by the First Amendment.

The Court opinined, “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. By imposing an unwanted minister, the state infringes the Free Exercise Clause, which protects a religious group’s right to shape its own faith and mission through its appointments. According the state the power to determine which individuals will minister to the faithful also violates the Establishment Clause, which prohibits government involvement in such ecclesiastical decisions.”

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