Supreme Court Re-Asserts “Ministerial Exception”

Bill Wright

The U.S. Supreme Court (“the Court”) today re-emphasized the “ministerial exception” to discrimination laws. The “ministerial exception” is a court-created doctrine that prevents the U.S. courts from becoming entangled in the internal governance and doctrines of religious organizations. In 2012, in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. USOC, the Court had affirmed the existence of the ministerial exception, and ruled that religious organizations were immune to suit for discrimination by, at least, “commissioned” ministers responsible for religious education. Today, in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morissey-Beru, the Court emphasized that employees of religious organizations are covered by the “ministerial exception” depending on their job functions, not their title or level of religious education. Religious organizations cannot be sued for discrimination by their employees when the employee is tasked with work central to the organization’s mission, specifically including religious education.