A Special Note for Pastors

Erik Stanley, Alliance Defense Fund Senior Legal Counsel has written an article that all pastors must read. Here is an excerpt from the article:

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision recently that demonstrates why churches should be updating their by-laws to protect against potential litigation that can threaten the constitutional right of the church to select its ministers free from government interference. The case was called Skrzypczak v. Diocese of Tulsa. In the case, the Diocese hired Ms. Skrzypczak to work as the Director of the Department of Religious Formation for the Diocese. She also had a supervisory role over the Diocese’s Pastoral Studies Institute and taught some religious courses at the Institute. After working for several years for the Diocese in this capacity, Ms. Skrzypczak was terminated. She filed suit against the Diocese alleging age and sex discrimination.

The issue in the case was whether Ms. Skrzypczak was considered a minister for purposes of the “ministerial exception” to Title VII which is the law that prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of, among other things, race, religion, age, and sex. Title VII usually prohibits discrimination unless the employee is considered a minister of a religious organization. If the employee is a minister, then Title VII does not apply and the courts will not hear claims of discrimination in employment. I should also note that a church is allowed by Title VII to make employment decisions on the basis of religion even with non-minister employees.

The Court’s holding enabled the Diocese to avoid a costly protracted lawsuit and demonstrates the need for churches to update their by-laws to include job descriptions for each position in their church specifically describing how those positions contribute to the spiritual and pastoral mission of the church. Having such job descriptions for each position at the church will make it easier for a church to bring itself into the ministerial exception if a lawsuit arises as a result of an employment decision by the church.

I urge pastors to read the article in its entirety and then take steps to update the by-laws of their churches, if they have not already done so.

Click here to read the article.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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