Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
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 not limited to such employees."

To determine if other employees fall within the exception, courts consider whether "the employee's primary duties consist of teaching, spreading the faith, church governance, supervision of a religious order, or supervision or participation in religious ritual and worship." Accordingly, "an employee may be considered ministerial, although not ordained, depending on the function and actual role of his or her position in the religious institution." The court concluded that the duties of the teacher in this case clearly made her a ministerial employee to whom the ministerial exception applied:

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Essential Guide to Employment Issues for Church Boards

Essential Guide to Employment Issues for Church Boards

Covers selection and screening, dispute resolution, terminations, discrimination, and minimum wage.



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