The Church Has Authority to Select Who Will Minister

Plaintiff, a former teacher at a church-run Lutheran grade school claimed that the church violated a federal law against disability-based discrimination when it rescinded her “call” as a “commissioned minister” and fired her as a third and fourth grade teacher, after a
disability-related leave of absence.

A federal trial court in Michigan dismissed the teacher’s claim, insisting that the “ministerial” nature of her position and the religious dimensions of the church’s decision made it inappropriate to apply anti-discrimination law. However, the Court of Appeals disagreed and concluded that her “primary duties” — as a “commissioned minister” at a school that aims to provide a “Christ-centered education” from teachers who “integrate faith into all subjects” — were secular.

The Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment bar lawsuits brought on behalf of ministers against their churches, regarding termination allegedly in violation of employment discrimi-nation laws.

Chief Justice Roberts, on behalf of the Supreme Court of the United States, insisted that the “authority to select and control who will minister to the faithful is the church’s alone.”  In sum, if an anti-discrimination lawsuit attempts to interfere with such matters, the First Amendment will not permit it to proceed. This decision reflects the philosophy that secular governments should be limited and that religious freedom includes the freedom of religious communities and institutions to decide religious questions for themselves.

For more information or for a consultation regarding your legal issues, please contact McCollum & Associates, LLC, at (301) 864-6070 or jmccollum@jmlaw.net.

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