Religious Identity

The Ministerial Exception: How Catholic Nonprofits Can Safeguard Their Right to Choose Their Own Leaders

In general, state and federal law prohibit discrimination based on religion and immutable characteristics such as race, sex, color, and national origin. But under the ministerial exception, churches, religious schools, and other qualifying religious organizations are exempt from these laws in connection with the hiring and firing of their ministerial employees. This protection applies only to employment decisions involving a distinct class of employees who are considered ministers. While the term “minister” encompasses more than just a church’s ordained clergy, the precise scope of the term is not clearly defined. There are, however, some guidelines that Catholic non-profits can follow to determine which of their employees might qualify as ministers.
In general, state and federal law prohibit discrimination based on religion and immutable characteristics such as race, sex, color, and national origin. But under the ministerial exception, churches, religious schools, and other qualifying religious organizations are exempt from these laws in connection with the hiring and firing of their ministerial employees. This protection applies only to employment decisions involving a distinct class of employees who are considered ministers. While the term “minister” encompasses more than just a church’s ordained clergy, the precise scope of the term is not clearly defined. There are, however, some guidelines that Catholic non-profits can follow to determine which of their employees might qualify as ministers.