Slacktivist Asks SCOTUS a Question: Who’s a “Minister”?

Fred asks the questions that lower courts are going to be figuring out for years to come: Who’s a minister? And what’s a church?

Say you’re the owner of a pizza place and you’re looking to hire a new delivery driver. You can’t put up a sign that says, “Jews Need Not Apply.” And you can’t put up a sign that says, “Only Jews Need Apply.” Either one would be an illegal form of religious discrimination. But say you’re on the board of a Conservative Jewish congregation and you’re looking to hire a new rabbi. In that case, the essential nature of the job requires that you hire someone who is Jewish — and whose particular religious values are in accord with those of your congregation. Presbyterians need not apply. Hindus need not apply. Orthodox and Reformed Jews need not apply.

That’s the “ministerial exception” at work. It’s not illegal — workplace laws forbidding religious discrimination do not apply.

The case of this hypothetical rabbi is fairly uncomplicated and uncontroversial because nearly everyone agrees that the rabbi’s role is ministerial and thus most agree with the logic of this exception. That logic comports with our basic sense of fairness. It seems reasonable for this congregation to consider religious belief in their hiring decision because religious belief is an intrinsic, essential aspect of the position of rabbi.

It gets more complicated and more controversial when the position or employee in question is in a less obviously or less explicitly “ministerial” role. And it gets even more complicated when the workplace laws or rules in question are not as obviously or explicitly related to religious belief.

READ THE REST: slacktivist » Who decides who is a ‘minister’?.

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  • Frank

    It’s not complicated at all. If you are working for a religious institution then either you believe the tenets of that faith or not. If you do not then it’s perfectly reasonable and legal to get fired for it or to not be hired. It makes no difference if the position is considered “ministerial” or not.

    • R

      Really? It’s complicated. Clergy positions can be discriminated based on religion, but non-clergy positions cannot be, even if hired by a church. If your church is hiring a custodian, you cannot say “Jews need not apply.” Here’s an interesting story: A “Director of Music” at a church has an affair, leaves his wife and begins to date the woman he had an affair with. Most people in the congregation are unaware of all this (it’s a large church). The other staff members are upset about this, clearly this action is against what they uphold to be Christian-living, but there is no policy that has been signed that says “I forfeit my position if I have an extra-marital affair.” While the staff is disgruntled, legally, they cannot fire him for the immoral action that does not affect his job performance. Because he is not a clergy, he does not have credentials that he is in danger of losing due to immoral behavior. And there you have it, complicated.

      • Frank

        Everyone who works for a religious institution could be considered a minister depending on how they define it. Even the janitor has contact with people in the organization and if he does not ascribe to and live out the values and beliefs of the institution it reflects poorly on the institution.

        It’s quite simple.

      • Frank

        And how about when people believe that no “official” minister is needed in a Christian community (not biblical but people do believe that) what then? Is not everyone then considered a “minister.”

        Ok so maybe it is a bit more complicated than I thought but not in the same way slactivist may think it’s complicated.

  • Frank

    Where do you find that in the law?