Patrick Reilly, president and founder of The Cardinal Newman Society, joined the Drew Mariani Show on Relevant Radio Tuesday to discuss an appeal to the United States Supreme Court regarding the “ministerial exception” and its protection for religious colleges. A recording is available here.
The guest host Ed Morrissey noted that the Newman Society had co-filed an amicus brief to the Supreme Court requesting that it block the Massachusetts Superior Court’s narrow reading of the ministerial exception, thereby allowing a professor of social work to sue Gordon College for denying her a promotion.
The ministerial exception is a First Amendment principle that bars courts from interfering with personnel decisions concerning employees who have substantial religious duties, including religious instruction and formation. The Supreme Court upheld the exception for a school teacher in Hosanna Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC (2012) and reaffirmed the exception for religion teachers at Catholic schools in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru last summer.
“In both cases they made it very clear that teaching the faith is about as ministerial as it gets, that the institutions are protected from lawsuits based on discrimination,” Reilly explained.
The Gordon College case has special importance for the ministerial exception, Reilly said, “because it involves a college, which the Supreme Court has not yet considered, and it also involves someone who is not teaching theology, but is teaching social work,” Reilly said. “At Gordon College they make very clear that every professor must be teaching the faith as part of their course work [and] they should be protected as part of the ministerial exception.”
The Gordon College case is yet another attempt to “rein in the ministerial exception,” Reilly said, citing a recent case in which a parish employee sued the Archdiocese of Chicago, claiming that the “ministerial exception only applies to hiring and firing decisions and not other employment decisions” including claims of a hostile work environment. The Newman Society petitioned the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals to support the First Amendment rights of religious employers, which the court did in July.
Host Morrissey noted the importance of these rulings and the ministerial exception, pointing out that “the point of the church teaching function is to promote church teaching.”
“To have the state step into those decisions, certainly in Hosanna Tabor, the Supreme Court found it to be almost an explicit intrusion into religious faith and religious exercise,” he said.