Huge Victory For Religious Organizations’ Right To Select Their Leaders | American Center for Law and Justice

Victory For Religious Organization

By ACLJ.org1423158535092

Today, the Sixth Circuit issued an opinion in favor of our client, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, USA (IVCF), upholding a religious organization’s First Amendment right to select ministers and spiritual leaders free from governmental inference. The decision is a huge victory for religious liberties and puts to rest the unsettled issue of whether the protections afforded a religious organization to choose its own ministers– the ministerial exception – can be waived or set aside. The opinion is the first issued by the Sixth Circuit regarding the ministerial exception since the Supreme Court’s decision in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC which affirmed that it is “impermissible for the government to contradict a church’s determination of who can act as its ministers.”

In our case, the Sixth Circuit adopted our argument that the ministerial exception can never be waived by a religious organization, foreclosing the possibility for a disgruntled employee to pursue a claim against a religious organization under a theory of waiver. The Court explained that because “[b]oth Religion Clauses bar the government from interfering with a religious organization’s decisions as to who will serve as ministers . . . It is impermissible for the government to contradict a church’s determination of who can act as its ministers. This reasoning . . . does not allow for a situation in which a church could explicitly waive this protection.” The Court concluded that “the Constitution does not permit private parties to waive the First Amendment’s ministerial exception.” “The ministerial exception is a structural limitation imposed on the government by the Religion Clauses [of the First Amendment], a limitation that can never be waived.”

The Court also rejected the appellant’s arguments that our client, IVCF, should not be granted the protection of the ministerial exception for claims brought under state law. Again, the Court put to rest any opportunity for an employee to circumvent the ministerial exception through a state law claim, concluding that “[t]he ministerial exception is recognized in Michigan . . . but even if it were not, because the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses apply to States through the Fourteenth Amendment by incorporation, the federal right would defeat any Michigan [or other state] statute that, as applied, violates the First Amendment.”

The Sixth Circuit is one of the first to hold that the ministerial exception cannot be waived. It is our hope that other courts will follow suit and uphold the right of religious groups to shape their own faith and mission through their appointments without interference from the government.

This article is written by ACLJ Attorney Abigail Southerland

The ACLJ Is in Court Fighting Against Government Overreach

By Jordan Sekulow1626463283920

In the City of Ocala, Florida, we are currently in a legal battle at the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals over a flawed federal district ruling declaring that government officials can no longer encourage citizens to pray amid a difficult time in their community and volunteer chaplains can no...

read more

ACLJ Appeals Ruling Finding Support for Prayer Vigil Unconstitutional

By Abigail A. Southerland1625749140000

Last week, and just before the celebration of our nation’s Declaration of Independence, the ACLJ filed our opening brief on behalf of the City of Ocala, Florida, in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals to preserve our first freedom: religious liberty . Specifically, we are challenging a district...

read more

School Backs Down After Confiscating 2nd Grader's Bible at School

By Francis J. Manion1622638740000

A little girl had her Bible confiscated by school officials. How could this still be happening in America? From our founding in 1990, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) has been at the forefront of defending the First Amendment rights of students to pray, evangelize, read their Bibles,

read more

California Finally Capitulates and Lifts Worship Ban on Churches

By Abigail A. Southerland1619725946069

This week – approximately ten (10) months following implementation of an outright ban on worship in churches – California has finally lifted the unconstitutional restriction. As you might recall, on July 1, 2020, California issued a mandate that places of worship “must therefore discontinue singing...

read more

American Center for Law and Justice | Washington D.C. | Copyright © 2021, ACLJ | Privacy & Security Policy | Annual Report

The ACLJ is an organization dedicated to the defense of constitutional liberties secured by law.

Visit to submit a legal help request. All legal requests submitted via any other method cannot be answered.

Through our $1 Million Matching Challenge, all gifts will be doubled, dollar-for-dollar, up to the online daily total.

American Center for Law and Justice is a d/b/a for Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism, Inc., a tax-exempt, not-for-profit, religious corporation as defined under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, specifically dedicated to the ideal that religious freedom and freedom of speech are inalienable, God-given rights. The Center's purpose is to engage legal, legislative and cultural issues by implementing an effective strategy of advocacy, education and litigation to ensure that those rights are protected under the law. The organization has participated in numerous cases before the Supreme Court, Federal Court of Appeals, Federal District Courts, and various state courts regarding freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Your gift is very much appreciated and fully deductible as a charitable contribution. A copy of our latest financial report may be obtained by writing to us at P.O. Box 90555, Washington, DC 20090-0555.