U.S. Supreme Court to Consider Whether Discrimination Law Applies to Teachers at a Religious Elementary School

The United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case, Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, to decide whether the “ministerial exception,” which is supposed to protect a church’s first amendment rights, protecting freedom of religion, applies to teachers of secular subjects in religious elementary schools. Generally, the ministerial exception permits a church to make employment decisions that are religiously based, without having to worry about anti-discrimination laws, which prohibit religious discrimination.
The case involves the termination of a teacher, and whether that termination is protected by the ministerial exception. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which heard the case, found that the teacher was not a ministerial employee, and noted that “the overwhelming majority of courts that have considered the issue have held that parochial school teachers. . . who teach primarily secular subjects do not classify as ministerial employees for purposes of the exception.”

Thus, the United States Supreme Court will answer the question of whether the ministerial exception applies to teachers who teach secular subjects at religious elementary school, but also teach religion classes. The case addresses the delicate balance between the first amendment and discrimination laws that prohibit employment discrimination.

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