The ministerial exception is a doctrine of constitutional law that provides religious employers, including certain colleges and universities, with a complete defense to many employment-related causes of action. The doctrine, rooted in the First Amendment's Establishment and Free Exercise clauses, provides that the government cannot interfere with a religious organization's selection of its "ministers."
The ministerial exception is not limited merely to those who fulfill conventional religious roles. Indeed, at a religious college or university, professors of religion, instructors who teach religion and spread the faith, and even employees who assist in religious functions-including music directors and public relations managers-may qualify as "ministers" under the exception.
This Note will detail how courts have tested whether an employee is a "minister." It will describe: (1) which institutions can invoke the ministerial exception, (2) which causes of action the exception can preclude, and (3) the sometimes complex question of which positions may be subject to the exception. Finally, it will focus on practical considerations, including the types of policies and practices that colleges and universities should consider when determining whether particular positions are subject to the exception. Read More