Pulpits to Playgrounds: Does the Ministerial Exception Apply to Camp Counselors?

Cody Hubbard, Dr. Megan Bryson, Religious Studies Department, University of Tennessee at Knoxville 1502 Cumberland Avenue Knoxville, TN 37916

In 1972, The Fifth Circuit first officially recognized the First Amendment right for religious institutions to manage their employment without governmental interference. It was then framed as an exemption from the Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act which bars employers discriminating against employees on basis of race, sex, religion, and other criteria. This became known as the ministerial exception. The ministerial exception allows religious organizations freedom to discriminate against certain key employees deemed “ministers.” This is because if the government were to interfere it would violate the sacred separation between church and state. The First Amendment gives religious institutions the right to make decisions regarding church government, as well as matters of faith and doctrine, free from government interference. Until recently, this exception has been applied by lower courts to specific religious leaders such as head pastors, rabbis, priest, etc. Recent Supreme Court cases such as Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrisey-Berru and Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EOCC have broadened this exception to include other roles within the religious institutions such as teachers and music directors. In this paper, I posit that by these Supreme Court decisions, the ministerial exception has been expanded to apply to non-ministerial roles such as camp counselors. By studying the history of the ministerial exception and recent court cases, I examine the potential ramifications of having the exception extend to cover positions in a religious institution such as camp counselor, janitor, teacher, secretary etc. Some of these consequences include religious organizations firing non-ministerial employees unfairly and the ministerial exception applying to other types of cases such as breach of contract and sexual assault allegations. 

Additional Abstract Information

Presenter: Cody Hubbard

Institution: University of Tennessee at Knoxville

Type: Oral

Subject: Philosophy, Ethics, & Religious Studies

Status: Approved

Time and Location

Session: Oral 11
Date/Time: Wed 3:00pm-4:00pm
Session Number: 1127
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