Supreme Court Rules That Clergy Are Not Protected by Anti-Discrimination Laws

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Look no further than Nina Totenberg for an incisive report on the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which was handed down yesterday. With this unanimous decision, the Supreme Court says that religious groups and churches have “ministerial exception” to employment discrimination laws. In other words, ministers can be sacked (or hired) without being subject to civil rights laws.

But who is a minister then? What are the criteria that might shield churches or other religious institutions from anti-discrimination laws when it comes to clergy? These questions and many others remain unaddressed as Totenberg points out:

"Still to be determined is how all this plays out in practice. Will the ruling allow religious organizations to fire a "ministerial" employee for reporting sexual abuse to the police, or for reporting health and safety violations at a church or school to civil authorities? It would appear the answer to that question is "yes" — though Roberts pointed out that churches can still be held criminally liable. Unanswered, though, is whether a fired employee can sue for breach of contract or some other wrong."

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