The Ministerial Exception

Who is a minister?

Cheryl Perich was a “called teacher” at Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School. She took medical leave in 2004 after being diagnosed with narcolepsy.  After being treated and cleared to return to work by her doctors she was told by the school that her position had been filled and was asked to submit her resignation. Instead Ms Perich threatened to sue under the American with Disabilities Act and was fired.

The ministerial exception in the ADA allows churches to require employees to conform to the religion’s tenets, and a basic tenet of the Lutheran Church is that disputes are resolved in the church, not the courts.

But because she only spent forty-five minutes out of her seven hour school workday on religious activities the Sixth Circuit held that Perich was not a ministerial employee, and thus her firing did not fall under the “ministerial exception”.


Justice Sotomayor asks the lawyer for the church, Douglas Laycock, about “a teacher who reports sexual abuse to the government and is fired because of that reporting.” She adds, grimly, “We know from the news recently that there was a church whose religious beliefs centered around sexually exploiting women and, I believe, children.”


When former Solicitor General Walter Dellinger, here representing the teacher, tells the Court that the ministerial exception should not be offered to those employees who perform “important secular functions”, Chief Justice Roberts responds: “That can’t be the test! The pope is a head of state carrying out secular functions. Those are important. So he is not a minister?”

WaPo story here.





Art Lien

Courtartist is me, Art Lien. I've been sketching the courts since 1976, and for most of that time the U.S. Supreme Court has been my regular beat. I've been working almost exclusively for NBC News since 1980. Courtroom sketching is a form of visual journalism or reportage drawing that is slowly dying out. Where once upon a time news organization each had their own artist covering a story, today a "pool" artist often sketches for all. It is a demanding and stressful discipline where the drawing is often done directly and under tight deadline.

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