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Part 1 of 4

Applying the Ministerial Exception to Church Employees

Understanding this key legal doctrine, how it works, and when it matters—or doesn’t—for specific positions.

Applying the Ministerial Exception to Church Employees
Image: Image: Illustration by Vasil Nazar / Source Images: GettyImages / Flaticon

The ministerial exception is a valuable legal protection allowing churches to make internal employment decisions without the fear of government intervention or entanglement.

Yet this legal doctrine is often misunderstood, or worse, misused by churches.

This article aims to help leaders learn how the ministerial exception does—and does not—apply to employees and properly use it to maximize its effectiveness. Doing so requires developing a working knowledge of the legal doctrine as well as understanding key legal rulings where the exception has applied. Here are two examples that merit mentioning as we begin this article, along with this series, on employment law for churches:

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