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’?.