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The Ministerial Exception and Disability Discrimination

The First Amendment generally bars courts from resolving church employment disputes.

Key Point 8-10.1. The civil courts have consistently ruled that the First Amendment prevents the civil courts from applying employment laws to the relationship between a church and a minister.

A federal court in Michigan ruled that it was barred by the "ministerial exception" from resolving a disability discrimination claim brought by a teacher against a church-operated school. The court began its opinion by observing that "for the ministerial exception to bar an employment discrimination claim, the employer must be a religious institution and the employee must have been a ministerial employee." There was no dispute in this case that the school was a religious institution and so the focus shifted to the question of whether the teacher was a ministerial employee. The court concluded that she was. It noted that the exception "most clearly applies to clergy and ordained ministers," but "it is ...

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Richard R. Hammar is an attorney, CPA and author specializing in legal and tax issues for churches and clergy.

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  • September 1, 2009

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