Whether certain teachers at religious schools are covered by the “ministerial exception,” which gives religious institutions the constitutional authority to discriminate in the selection of faith leaders.
The ministerial exception serves important purposes in safeguarding religious institutions’ autonomy with respect to governance and leadership. But it comes at significant cost, conferring the extraordinary power to discriminate against ministerial employees on any basis whatsoever. Given this sweeping immunity from nondiscrimination laws, the exception should apply only if the totality of the circumstances—taking into account all facts that may bear on the ministerial nature of a particular employee’s job—demonstrates that the employee is a minister of the faith. Applying that test, one of the teachers in these consolidate cases should qualify as a minister, but the other teacher should not.