Hosanna-Tabor and Supreme Court Precedent: An Analysis of the Ministerial Exception in the Context of the Supreme Court’s Hands-Off Approach to Religious Doctrine
18 Pages Posted: 6 Dec 2011 Last revised: 22 Jul 2013
Date Written: November 14, 2011
The United States Supreme Court’s review of the decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in the case of Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. EEOC could lead to a major development in the Court’s Religion Clause jurisprudence. On one level, Hosanna-Tabor presents important questions regarding the interrelationship between employment discrimination laws and the constitutional rights of religious organizations. The narrow issue at the center of the case is the "ministerial exception," a doctrine that precludes courts from adjudicating discrimination claims arising out of disputes between religious institutions and their ministerial employees. This Essay suggests, however, that the real significance of Hosanna-Tabor goes beyond the Court’s application of the ministerial exception to the particular facts of the case. This Essay looks at the ministerial exception through the broader prism of the Supreme Court’s "hands-off" approach to religious doctrine, which prohibits judicial inquiry into a wide range of questions relating to religious practice and belief.
Keywords: Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. EEOC, Hosanna-Tabor, United States Supreme Court, Sixth Circuit, Religion Clause, Constitutional Law, ministerial exception
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