Clergy Selection

A federal court in Oregon rejected a minister’s claim of unlawful religious discrimination.

Church Law and Tax2003-05-01

Clergy Selection

Key point 2-01.4. The selection of a minister is an ecclesiastical decision that the civil courts ordinarily will not review-even when it is alleged that a church failed to follow its own internal procedures in the selection of a minister, or the selection process was discriminatory.
Initiating the Pastor-Church Relationship

* A federal court in Oregon rejected a minister’s claim that the federal government’s refusal to hire him as a chaplain was based on unlawful religious discrimination. The Federal Bureau of Prisons has adopted standards for becoming a chaplain that require applicants to be ordained clergy and to have earned a Masters of Divinity degree or its academic equivalent. A counselor (“Tom”) for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, who was also an ordained minister, was rejected for a chaplaincy position because he did not have a Masters of Divinity degree. Tom sued the Bureau for religious discrimination. A federal court dismissed his claim on the ground that he failed to produce any evidence that the Bureau had discriminated against him or members of his denomination. The court noted that “over 65% of Bureau chaplains are Protestant, including six who are members of Tom’s denomination (all of whom have Master of Divinity degrees), even though only 35% of the inmates indicate a religious preference of Protestant.” Tucker v. Reno, 205 F. Supp.2d 1169 (D. Ore. 2002).

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