Editor's Note: This essay is the second in a five-part series on Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. EEOC, a major religion case currently pending in the Supreme Court. For the first time, the Court may squarely address the ministerial exception, a controversial doctrine that grants religious organizations immunity from employment discrimination suits by ministers, even where the discrimination is not religiously required. Our contributors, representing both sides of the scholarly debate, discuss the important doctrinal and policy implications of this landmark case.
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.