(Published in the Spring/Summer of 2009 Newsletter)
From time to time, church leaders, music ministers, and church school teachers and professors, are involuntarily removed from their positions. Lawsuits for wrongful termination and discrimination are increasingly occurring. Nevertheless, as a recent Pennsylvania Superior Court case affirmed, more often than not, the Church’s decision to terminate employment will not be second-guessed by the Courts.
Under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, the Courts have created a “ministerial exception” which prohibits courts from deciding cases that would encroach upon the Church’s decision concerning the employment of “ministers.” Whether or not a person is a “minister” depends upon the functions of the person within the church. According to our Courts, a person is more likely to be regarded as a minister, “if primary duties include teaching, spreading the faith, church governance, supervision of religious order and supervision of participation in religious ritual and worship.”
It is also clear that ordination alone is not conclusive. On the other hand, people who do not have a title such as “pastor” or “reverend” can be considered a “minister.” Thus, teachers in church schools and church music directors, may be “ministers.” Again, the functions of the person will help determine whether a person is a “minister” or not. While church liability insurance policies generally do not include court costs to defend against such law suits, you should review your church’s policy provisions with your insurance carrier to be sure. In sum, if your church is going to terminate the employment of a potential minister, you must be aware of these rules.
The Church Law attorneys at Trinity Law can help. Contact us now by calling, toll free, 1-866-464-5297.