By Mark Goidell, Esq.
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Claims of employment discrimination or hostile work environment/harassment in religious affiliated institutions compete against the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment. The legal principles guiding this conflict are starting to emerge although much clarity is still required. Mark’s article discusses the current status of the ministerial exception and remaining issues in its application to employment claims.
Printed with permission by the Nassau County Bar Association
The ministerial exception bars discrimination and retaliation claims arising from the employment decision of religious institutions regarding “ministers.” The exception has its genesis in both the Free Exercise Clause and Establishment Clause of the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”1 The Free Exercise Clause safeguards religious institutions’ “right to shape [their] own faith and mission through [their] appointments,” and the Establishment Clause prohibits “government involvement in [ ] ecclesiastical decisions.”2 Together, they “bar the government from interfering with the decision of a religious group to fire one of its ministers.”3
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