Key point 8-10.1 The civil courts have consistently ruled that the First Amendment prevents them from applying employment laws to the relationship between a church and a minister.
A federal court in Illinois ruled that a church’s director of music was a “minister” for purposes of the ministerial exception, and therefore it could not resolve his discrimination lawsuit against the church following his demotion. The Catholic Bishop of Chicago hired an adult male (the “plaintiff”) in 1992 to serve as the director of music at a local Catholic church. In 2015, the plaintiff was demoted from a full-time position to a part-time position without benefits. As a result of the demotion, the plaintiff’s duties as director of music were taken away, meaning that he no longer participated in the budget process; he was not sent to Archdiocesan Music Committee activities; his access to the church became limited; he became responsible for maintaining his own music skills; he no longer taught music to the children at the church’s school; and he no longer held practices for the church choirs.
After the demotion, the plaintiff performed only the duties of organist at church functions. And, even as the organist, he no longer had any discretion in picking what music to perform during Mass. Instead, he played music selected by the parish pastor. Sometime after the demotion, the plaintiff was fired.
The plaintiff later sued the Catholic Bishop of Chicago, alleging national origin and age discrimination. In particular, he asserted that he was demoted from his position as director of music because he is Polish and due to his age, and then was fired when he complained about the demotion.