Are Religious Institutions Entitled to Disobey the Law?

Under the 'ministerial exception' rule, courts have refused to hear cases involving dismissal of ministers. Yet this same rule is used by religious institutions against employees who cannot be ministers. Employees who cannot be clergy according to the tenants of the particular faith are discriminated against in matters involving sexual harassment, hostile work environments, discrimination involving race, age and disabilities. For example, the Catholic elementary school teacher who reported possible sexual abuse to the police instead of the school principle and a Catholic school principal who complained to her bishop about inappropriate behaviour by the school priest were both fired. Yet, the courts refused to hear their cases because the Catholic church claimed they were both 'ministers.' Now the Evangelical Lutheran church is disputing the firing of a school teacher for making a disabilities claim and is using the 'ministerial exception' doctrine as to why the courts should not hear or intervene in her case.

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