“Ministerial Exception” Debated in Maryland

Mary Linklater was once the choir director at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church. Two important members of the church (including the pastor) began making sexual advances towards her and Mary reported this to church leaders.

How did that go over?

When she rebuffed their advances and later reported their behavior to church leaders, both men became hostile towards her. The pastor, for example, repeatedly reprimanded her for insubordination in front of the congregation, required her to play the organ with a broken wrist, openly mocked her when she was in distress, referred to her using foul and inflammatory language, and publicly accused her of extorting from the church.

She was eventually fired. I repeat: SHE was fired.

A jury later awarded her $1,350,000… which is all well and good.

Yesterday, oral arguments were heard on this case by the highest court in Maryland. Specifically, the judges dealt with the idea of “Ministerial Exception“:

The exception says that ministers and other clergy members should be able to make hiring decisions based on religious criteria. But too often the law is used to shield some clergy members from laws that should obviously apply to all — like laws preventing sexual harassment in the workplace.

People for the American Way says that “the exception was never intended to relieve religious employers of their obligation to comply with neutral laws of general applicability” and they support Linklater in this matter.

They’re right, of course. Being a “man of God” doesn’t mean you can get away with disobeying the laws of man.

We’re talking about a pastor who sexually harassed an employee, fired her, and wasn’t punished for it (as far as I can tell).

He shouldn’t be given a “get out of jail free card” just because he’s a church leader.

(Thanks to Laramie for the link)

  • reyno_buxworth

    Wonder what makes them think they can hide behind the veil of religion and how often they do get away with it

  • CybrgnX

    The problem is the brain washing they do on the women. If my daughter was working there and the Conman made improper moves he would not have to worry about being turned in, his major thought would be to find a doctor to get his balls put back on.
    Actually that is not true as I’ve told her many times to strike at the major nerve bundles to get the message across and not leave any marks.
    But you really have to feel sorry for any woman put into that position. What can she do??? Reporting them is no help as you have seen. Using force gets the woman in jail for assault.
    When my wife reported an attempted assault the cops told her she had 2 options, lay back and enjoy it or after the attack is well under way (needed to collect ‘evidence’) kill him asap.
    And that is for a ‘normal’ assault, now in this case you have a ‘holy speaker of g0ds word priest’ doing it. it is so bad that if the pedophile priests where doing it to a grown women instead of kids the congregation would have come down on the woman for being a tramp and no good.

  • http://3harpiesltd.org/ocb Judith Bandsma

    This is just an extension of the treatment women receive from religious leaders when they decide they can no longer take a husband’s abuse. He receives condolences, she gets either asked to leave the church or made so uncomfortable that she doesn’t go back.

    With no legal recourse in that situation, why shouldn’t a pastor, deacon or other church ‘official’ feel that they should be exempt from answering for the same type of behavior toward employees?

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Beth

    How disgusting. One of the main problems I have always had with religion in general and christianity in particular is that it is simply steeped in misogyny.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    What I find so appalling is that the church thinks this is a valid defense. I mean, how on earth is resisting the unwanted sexual overtures of your boss a “religious criteria”? Are they really trying to argue that screwing the pastor when he asks you to is the religious doctrine they adhere to, and that they have the right to fire someone who doesn’t adhere to it?

    It reminds me all to well of the Catholic Church, arguing in court that they have a First Amendment/ freedom of religion right to discipline their priests as they see fit, and to assign and re-assign priests as they see fit… including shuffling child-molesting priests around the country to shield them from arrest and prosecution. I mean, is that really the case you want to be arguing? That shielding priests who commit crimes — especially sexual abuse crimes — is part of your religious expression?

  • NewEnglandBob

    Beth said:
    “How disgusting. One of the main problems I have always had with religion in general and Christianity in particular is that it is simply steeped in misogyny.”

    …and xenophobia, pedophilia, irrationality, theiving from the ignorant, etc.

  • muggle

    Oh, c’mon. She wasn’t fired for not following their tenants. In fact, I’m betting she was fired for following the religion. Of course, I’m assuming the church does what most churches do and frowns on sex outside of marriage.

  • http://atheistcamel.blogspot.com/ Dromedary Hump

    What I find so appalling is that the church thinks this is a valid defense.

    But it’s the norm…and necesarily so. It’s alot easier to replace a member of the congregation than it is to replace the “vector” who carries and spreads the religion virus to new hosts.

    Thats why the church was jockeying priests around, and defaming victims who came forward. Its the same reason protestant heirarchy and their congregations come to the defense of their pervert shaman and often shun the victim.

    Read “the God Virus” it’s all clearly explained… and it’s a great book!

  • http://lagunatic.wordpress.com/ Lagunatic

    Can I tell you what I’d like to do with their organ?

    (Someone had to go there)

  • http://redheadedskeptic.com Laura

    Barf. Kudos to Mary, though, for sticking up for herself. More people need to. (And Lagunatic, HOW DO YOU KNOW how to always make me laugh??)

  • Jennifer

    Arguments like this reflect poorly on integrity of the lawyer and firms representing the church. It’s their job to advise their clients, and they could have advised them to settle for a reasonable sum, but they’re pushing this forward based on an intellectually dishonest argument, and racking up fees in the meantime. As a lawyer I take it personally because it unfortunately reflects on me personally.


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