Shout Hosanna: The Supreme Court Affirms the Free Exercise Clause’s Ministerial Exception

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Education Law Reporter


religious freedom, religion, first amendment, schools, ministerial exception


Courts in the United States have long recognized that they cannot intrude into religious organizations' selection of their religious leaders. The relationship between government and religious entities is grounded in the First Amendment's provision that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This *694 constitutional protection has given rise to a ministerial exception that protects those organizations' selection and control of their ministerial employees. While the legal controversy concerning the ministerial exception is broader than employment issues, extending to issues involving control of church property, this article will be limited to employment decisions by churches, primarily decisions concerning the selection and removal of ministerial employees.This article is divided into five parts. Part I, the Introduction, acquaints the reader with the overall purpose and organization of this article. Part II reviews the facts of Hosanna, the federal district and Sixth Circuit opinions, and, finally, the U.S. Supreme Court's majority and concurring opinions. Part III analyzes legal issues in Hosanna as related to the Free Exercise Clause's religious exception and federal statutory religious exemptions, particularly those in the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title VII. Part IV discusses implications for practice and Part V summarizes the article and draws conclusions for the future.


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