Written by Don Byrd

that the ministerial exception exists, and that it precludes ministers from bringing employment discrimination claims against their churches, the U.S Supreme Court today delivered aunanimous decision (pdf) written by Chief Justice John Roberts, reversing the 6th Circuit in the case of Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC.

We agree that there is such a ministerial exception. The members of a religious group put their faith in the hands of their ministers. Requiring a church to accept or retain an unwanted minister, or punishing a church for failing to do so, intrudes upon more than a mere employment decision. Such action interferes with the internal governance of the church, depriving the church of control over the selection of those who will personify its beliefs. By imposing an unwanted minister, the state infringes the Free Exercise Clause, which protects a religious group’s right to shape its own faith and mission through its appointments.

According the state the power to determine which individuals will minister to the faithful also violates the Establishment Clause, which prohibits government involvement in such ecclesiastical decisions.

Every Court of Appeals to have considered the question has concluded that the ministerial exception is not limited to the head of a religious congregation, and we agree. We are reluctant, however, to adopt a rigid formula for deciding when an employee qualifies as a minister. It is enough for us to conclude, in this our first case involving the ministerial exception, that the exception covers Perich, given all the circumstances of her employment.

The BJC filed a brief in this case urging the Court to affirm the ministerial exception. This particular case though can be a difficult one to think about for those of us who stand firmly against employment discrimination. You can read my thoughts in a previous post here.