Churches: Outside the Bounds of Employment Law?

Today, Wednesday October 5, 2011, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Hosanna-Tabor Church v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, No. 10-553. The case concerns the scope of protection for parochial school teachers from discrimination in their religious-based workplace.

The Supreme Court has never explicitly held whether there is a “ministerial exception” implicit in the religious clause of the First Amendment, thereby protecting religious institutions’ rights to hire and fire clergy without being constrained by employment discrimination laws. The twelve courts of appeals that have heard similar cases have held that this exception does exist and, at a minimum, applies to pastors, rabbis, and priests. The outcome of this case will determine whether parochial school teachers are considered “ministers,” therefore shielding the religious organizations from the confines of employment discrimination laws or whether they should be considered like any other employee under these laws.

So, should Churches fall outside of the parameters of employment laws and not have to answer for potential infractions against employees? Follow the outcome of the case.