Earlier today, the Supreme Court released its decision in Hosanna-Tabor v. E.E.O.C., a case that brought into question the validity and boundaries of the “ministerial exception,” a legal doctrine that exempts religious organizations from the anti-discrimination standards of US law. The New York Times reports:
In what may be its most significant religious liberty decision in two decades, the Supreme Court on Wednesday for the first time recognized a “ministerial exception” to employment discrimination laws, saying that churches and other religious groups must be free to choose and dismiss their leaders without government interference.
“The interest of society in the enforcement of employment discrimination statutes is undoubtedly important,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote in a decision that was surprising in both its sweep and its unanimity. “But so, too, is the interest of religious groups in choosing who will preach their beliefs, teach their faith and carry out their mission.”
The decision gave only limited guidance about how courts should decide who counts as a minister, saying the court was “reluctant to adopt a rigid formula.” Two concurring opinions offered contrasting proposals.
Whatever its precise scope, the ruling will have concrete consequences for countless people employed by religious groups to perform religious work. In addition to ministers, priests, rabbis and other religious leaders, the decision appears to encompass, for instance, at least those teachers in religious schools with formal religious training who are charged with instructing students about religious matters.
Read the NYTimes article in full here and the text of the Supreme Court decision here. See also a TIF discussion of the case featuring essays by Leslie Griffin, George C. Heider, and Winnifred Fallers Sullivan.