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What the "Ministerial Exception" Ruling Means for Churches

The implications of the Supreme Court's unanimous decision

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.

In a ringing endorsement of religious liberty, the United States Supreme Court in January unanimously affirmed the so-called "ministerial exception" barring civil court review of employment disputes between churches and ministers. The ministerial exception has been applied to a wide range of employment disputes by state and federal courts over the past half century, but has never before been addressed by the Supreme Court. This Feature Article will review the facts of the case, explain the Court's ruling, and evaluate the impact of the case on churches and church leaders.

Background

A Michigan church (the "Church") affiliated with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) operated a small school ...

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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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  • March 1, 2012

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