Clergy—Removal – Part 3

A federal court in Connecticut ruled that it was barred from resolving a minister’s claim that a church’s refusal to hire him amounted to discrimination based on race and national origin.

Church Law and Tax 2006-11-01

Clergy—removal – Part 3

* A federal court in Connecticut ruled that it was barred by the First Amendment guaranty of religious freedom from resolving a minister’s claim that a church’s refusal to hire him amounted to discrimination based on race and national origin.

An ordained minister applied for several positions with a church, including administrater and senior pastor. He was rejected for each position. He sued the church on the basis of racial and national origin discrimination (he is black, and a former citizen of Tanzania) in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The court dismissed the minister’s lawsuit on the ground that the First Amendment guaranty of religious freedom ‘preserves a religious institution’s right to be free from governmental entanglement with its management of its internal affairs.’ A church’s selection of its clergy ‘is one such core matter of ecclesiastical self-governance with which the state may not constitutionally interfere.” If a suit involves an employment decision by a church with respect to one of its ministers, ‘the civil courts lack jurisdiction because the First Amendment bars court involvement in the employment relationship between a minister and a church.’

The court noted that several federal appeals courts have ruled that the First Amendment prevents clergy from suing church employers for alleged violations of federal anti-discrimination statutes, and quoted from several of these decisions. It concluded: ‘Here, the plaintiff claims that he was denied employment opportunities because of his race. This is an issue inextricably entwined with the church’s decision regarding his employment. We cannot conceive how the federal judiciary could determine whether an employment decision concerning a minister was based on legitimate or illegitimate grounds without inserting ourselves into a realm where the Constitution forbids us to tread, the internal management of a church.’ 2006 WL 306654 (D. Conn. 2006).

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