The Supreme Court of the United States, in its Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC opinion, upheld the “ministerial exception” that the U.S. circuit courts had long recognized. Basically, this exception states that churches cannot be sued over employment decisions regarding those whom the church hires to “preach their beliefs, teach their faith and carry out their mission.”
The Supreme Court’s Jan. 11 decision is rooted in both the free exercise and the establishment clauses of the First Amendment, and is very fact-specific to the Hosanna-Tabor case. The decision gives no clear rule as to who is or is not covered by the ministerial exception. But clearly, from the language of the court, two things are required: The employer must be a church, and the employee must be an agent of the church, hired by the church to preach the church’s beliefs, teach its faith and carry out its mission.