Today's Top Five
1. "Ministerial exception" interpretation narrowed
Lynette Petruska, a chaplain at the Roman Catholic Gannon University in Erie, Pa., says she was forced out of her job because she was a woman and because she objected to sexual harassment at the school. In 2004, a federal judge threw out her case because Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the First Amendment give great leeway to religious institutions in hiring practices. Repeated court rulings have stayed out of similar employment cases because of what is known as the "ministerial exception."
Wednesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit offered a "a carefully tailored version of the ministerial exception." When the employment issue is "religious belief, religious doctrine, or the internal regulations of a church," then courts have no business entering into the dispute, the judges ruled. But when the dispute is unconnected to those issues, employment discrimination "is simply the exercise of intolerance, not the free exercise of religion that the Constitution protects." The ruling explains further:
When a religious organization fires or demotes a woman on the basis of sex, it may be acting according to religious belief, religious doctrine, or church regulation (consider, for example, the Catholic Church's prohibition of female priests). In such a case, the religious organization would be immune fromÂ a Title VII suit. But a religious institution might also fire a woman because the individuals making the decision are, simply put, sexist. Religious doctrine and internal church regulation play no role in such a decision.
The buzz so far is that since this decision is at odds with other circuit court decisions, it could go to the Supreme ...1
Already a CT subscriber? Log in for full digital access.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 60+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more