How much leeway should religious schools have under the ministerial exception when it comes to hiring and firing teachers whose beliefs don’t align with a church’s? The U.S. Supreme Court has said it will review a federal appellate court’s ruling that would allow two California teachers’ claims of workplace discrimination to move forward.
Front and center will likely be the landmark 2012 case of Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Employment Opportunity Division. The SCOTUS ruled that the free exercise and establishment clauses of the First Amendment prohibit legal claims against church bodies by their employees who carry out “essential religious functions.” The ministerial exception is supposed to protect church decisions about its leadership from improper governmental influence under the 1st Amendment.
Plaintiff alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act after taking leave to treat her narcolepsy. She was fired for reported insubordination. The line between “minister” and others wasn’t clearly defined, but plaintiff did teach religion and led religious ceremonies. Thus, the court held, the ministerial exemption applied. Continue reading