Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
Ministerial Exemption Bars Court's Ruling in Music Director's Dismissal
Federal Court unable to resolve claim that director's dismissal was based on age or disability.
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 appeals court ruled that it was barred by the "ministerial exception" from resolving a church music director's claim that he was dismissed in violation of federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination based on age or disability. A church's music director (the "plaintiff") oversaw the music department's budget and expenditures, managed the sound systems and maintained the sound equipment, music room, and music area in the sanctuary, and rehearsed with members of the choir and accompanied them on the piano during services while running the soundboard. The plaintiff's employment was terminated by the church, and he filed a lawsuit claiming that his termination was in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The church asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit on the basis of the ministerial exception, which generally bars the civil courts from resolving employment disputes between churches and clergy. A federal district court agreed that the ministerial exception applied, and it dismissed the case.

A federal appeals court affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiff's claims. It relied on a 2012 ruling by the United States Supreme Court unanimously affirming the ministerial exception. Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. E.E.O.C., 132 S.Ct. 694 (2012). In the Hosanna-Tabor case, the Supreme Court ruled that "there is a ministerial exception" that "bars the government from interfering with the decision of a religious group to fire one of its ministers."

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