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Supreme Court case could affect suits against Church for discrimination

Catholic World News - September 22, 2011

A case pending before the US Supreme Court could produce an important new precedent regarding the right of religious groups to set standards for their ministers and other employees.

The Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC case could have an immediate effect, for instance, on lawsuits brought by American women who claim that the Catholic Church indulges in illegal discrimination by restricting the priesthood to males, or homosexuals who seek employment in religious education.

The Pew Forum explains that the case will focus attention on the “ministerial exception”—the understanding that courts should not interfere with the right of religious bodies to set their own standards for the qualifications of ministers.

In Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, the Supreme Court will decide whether a teacher who devoted part of her day to religious duties should be considered a ministerial employee in a wrongful dismissal suit. More importantly, Hosanna-Tabor offers the court an opportunity to shrink or expand the reach of the ministerial exception, thereby putting its stamp on an important doctrine that has been applied in different ways by lower federal and state courts.

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