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prisonchaplain

Christian college denied right to treat faculty as 'ministers'

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This is a case that could impact BYU's schools. Gordon College (Wenham, MA) turned down an associate professor's promotion to full professor, apparently due in some part to her opposition to the school's stance on LGBT issues and extramarital sex. The school requires faculty to integrate faith and learning, and they sign a code of conduct. They are told that part of their jobs is to promote the school's doctrines and biblical standards and to uphold the Bible as authoritative. She sued, claiming discrimination. The school asked for a summary dismissal based on the Hosanna-Tabor decision (https://www.becketlaw.org/case/eeoc-v-hosanna-tabor-evangelical-lutheran-church-school/), arguing that their faculty qualify for the ministerial exception, so the school can hold them to doctrinal and morality standards. The short version is that this judge rejected the school's claim and agreed with the professor that she was not a minister and did not fulfill a ministerial role.

https://www.christianpost.com/news/judge-denies-christian-college-ministerial-exception-to-former-professors-discrimination-lawsuit.html

Thoughts?

 

Edited by prisonchaplain

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It could.  I expect there could be several appeals on this one even after the first court makes it's decision.

There are a few major items which may be considered in this. 

The first, in Hosanna-Tabor the teacher was also a confirmed minister. From the article you posted.

Quote

Those four exceptions are: “the employee’s ‘formal title,’ ‘the substance reflected in that title,’ the employee’s ‘use of that title,’ and ‘the important religious functions [the employee] performed.’”

“In sum, although DeWeese-Boyd had a seminary degree when hired, she did not have a religious title at Gordon,” Karp stated. “she did not represent herself as a minister, she did not play an integral (or any) role in religious services, she did not convey Christian doctrine to the Gordon community, she did not lead her students in prayer, and she did not perform any religious functions.”
 

Though there are situational identifiers put up in regards to what that could mean, it may not be as stringent as some people assume.  What I mean is in the original case what duties were actually performed in the pursuit of being a minister and how often?  The official title the teacher was called at school, was it Pastor or was it actually something else?

In this case, the individual pursuing the case was a prior missionary, but even more, she has a masters from a theological seminary.  What then constitutes being a minister in this instance?  If she had to sign a paper confirming upholding the values of the religion of the institution, and she also was expected to include observation (either by respect by not brining in things against the religious values or teachings of the institution, OR by integrating them into her teachings) in the classroom, this could also be seen as the job of a teacher and a minister.  You do not have to actually teach theology directly to be in the ministering field, you can also teach indirectly through observance and HOW you teach things.

Second, is the institution part of a church?  Is it sponsored or owned by a Church?  Even if she is not a complete minister, if she is an employee of the church and included within the reigns of instruction, this could also be seen as part of being a minister.  Children's ministry do not always have those who are ordained as ministers to be over them.  Sometimes it's adults who have degrees in childcare or other arenas.  They are still expected to uphold the morals in the children who go to Sunday School or pastoral services within them.  Even if the children merely play the entire time their parents are in the service, these teachers or children's ministers normally are still considered ministers or part of the ministry in many churches. 

If we exclude this teacher, by default that could be applied to these as well.  In that instance, it could be argued that this is not only an attack upon the church, but an attempt by government in kill the separation of church and state by defining what it's ministers can or cannot do in the ministry of children.

Third, and finally, most businesses and companies have a code of conduct and policies to adhere to their business ethics and morals.  I assume this honor code by the school also is applicable to the students.  The bigger question then is whether this code is acceptable to be utilized in the institute.  If it is a requisite to be a member of their religion, and students, staff, and faculty are seen by default as participants (even if not members) while in the role of student, staff, or faculty, then how far can the government go in directing an institute of religion on the requirements of membership?

These various areas are some of the things I see just on the surface of what could be argued, or how it may be argued for an effective defense.  Obviously one would want to look into precedent and cases that established it as such. 

I would have felt in consideration of all things above that the case should or would have been dismissed rather easily.  It probably is that I do not have all the facts of the case to see where the denial of dismissal lay.  On the surface of it, it seems rather sad that such a case is going forward, but there may be more to this than one sees on the surface.

Edited by JohnsonJones

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This topic could be difficult for the public at large to grapple with. Certainly, most professors are not ordained ministers. Further, many colleges/universities with religious foundations are primarily universities and almost incidentally religious. However, many religious schools have a more rigorous spiritual aspect to them. In my own denomination, for example, most of our colleges/universities are the default regional school many of our coming-of-age youth. Further, they are our main source of ministers. Some have open enrollment (meaning non-religious students can be accepted). However, all of them require the faculty to be Christians who are able to sign on to our Statement of Fundamental Truths. Further, some of our schools (Southwestern Assemblies of God University, Waxahatchie, TX comes to mind) require students to declare Christian faith on their application (Application Question: Tell us about your born-again experience). Courts should give religiously-missioned colleges/universities tremendously broad empowerment to declare their faculty as 'ministers' in regards to this exception.

Edited by prisonchaplain

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1 hour ago, prisonchaplain said:

This is a case that could impact BYU's schools. Gordon College (Wenham, MA) turned down an associate professor's promotion to full professor, apparently due in some part to her opposition to the school's stance on LGBT issues and extramarital sex. The school requires faculty to integrate faith and learning, and they sign a code of conduct. They are told that part of their jobs is to promote the school's doctrines and biblical standards and to uphold the Bible as authoritative. She sued, claiming discrimination. The school asked for a summary dismissal based on the Hosanna-Tabor decision (https://www.becketlaw.org/case/eeoc-v-hosanna-tabor-evangelical-lutheran-church-school/), arguing that their faculty qualify for the ministerial exception, so the school can hold them to doctrinal and morality standards. The short version is that this judge rejected the school's claim and agreed with the professor that she was not a minister and did not fulfill a ministerial role.

https://www.christianpost.com/news/judge-denies-christian-college-ministerial-exception-to-former-professors-discrimination-lawsuit.html

Thoughts?

 

A lot of things saying this is on a razor sharp edge.

Was she a minsiter?  Apparenlty she was.  That is not the question.

Was the job description that of a minister?  That is the question.  It hinges on 

Quote

because her title did not suggest any ministerial or religious role, she did not hold herself out as a minister, and she did not perform any religious functions of a minister.

In the referenced Hosanna-Tabor case, the school was A Religious Seminary.  Thus ANY position would be adjudged a ministerial role.

What we have here with Gordon College is that we certainly hope that such an exception could be made as well.  But the judiciary's trend has recently been for courts to rule that 

Quote

if the same function may just as easily be performed by a non-religious institution, then the position (and likely the entire institution) may be considered non-religious for the purposes of such an exemption.

(paraphrased).

The last I heard, this was making its way through many courts with differing results.  I don't know if there has been one that has gone to SCOTUS.

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If I am not mistaken the Hosanna-Tabor school was not a seminary (i.e. graduate school training ministers) but rather a private, church-based K-12 school. The courts can take this in one of two directions. One is the way of Canada, which says that religious schools (other than those that prepare clergy) are no more protected than non-religious schools. Public policy laws oppose discrimination trump the religious convictions of the sponsoring religious organization. This is the narrow, socially "liberal" viewpoint. The Canadian example is Trinity Western University, which failed to gain accreditation for its proposed law school because students signed a morality honor code prohibiting gay or extra-marital sex. My argument pleases social conservatives, but might be considered libertarian, as well. Religiously-oriented schools should have the right to discriminate in the hiring of faculty--and in the selection of students. One way of looking at is freedom of association.  

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On 4/9/2020 at 3:01 PM, prisonchaplain said:

If I am not mistaken the Hosanna-Tabor school was not a seminary (i.e. graduate school training ministers) but rather a private, church-based K-12 school. The courts can take this in one of two directions. One is the way of Canada, which says that religious schools (other than those that prepare clergy) are no more protected than non-religious schools. Public policy laws oppose discrimination trump the religious convictions of the sponsoring religious organization. This is the narrow, socially "liberal" viewpoint. The Canadian example is Trinity Western University, which failed to gain accreditation for its proposed law school because students signed a morality honor code prohibiting gay or extra-marital sex. My argument pleases social conservatives, but might be considered libertarian, as well. Religiously-oriented schools should have the right to discriminate in the hiring of faculty--and in the selection of students. One way of looking at is freedom of association.  

My thoughts on this is that there is a lot of water under the bridge that separates church from state and that separation goes both ways.  Thus that state should have no more influence over institutions of religions than religions have over the state.  But keep in mind that my ancestors were forced to leave the USA in order to have freedom of religion almost 200 years ago.  Sadly that primary force towards depriving my ancestors of their freedoms of religion are the primary targets today.  One could say - what goes around comes around.  Never-the-less I am personally concerned at the freedoms that are being lost on so many fronts - including and especially concerning religion and the right of assembly.

One perhaps of point of interest - is the risk that COVID-19 poses on the LGBTQ community.  I have not heard anything that draws any association - I have no idea if the risk is high, medium or low.

 

The Traveler

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17 hours ago, Traveler said:

 

One perhaps of point of interest - is the risk that COVID-19 poses on the LGBTQ community.  I have not heard anything that draws any association - I have no idea if the risk is high, medium or low.

 

I’ve thought about that as well. Would the Bay Area be comfortable with the Mayor issuing orders to close “non-essential” businesses that cater specifically to gay people? What if it’s in the name of public health, or to slow the spread of disease? Is the authority or the rationale any different from the one currently employed?

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Dystopian futures that currently exist:

1. Some psychologists argue that children are not emotionally-cognitively able to grapple with spirituality with any sort of autonomy until they are about 16. Some secularists argue that parents should not be allowed to subject their children to religious indoctrination until that age, since doing so is akin to brainwashing.

2. Government has proven it can pressure-and even litigate-colleges/universities into public policy submission, even over matters that are grounded in sincerely held religious beliefs.

3. LGBT have been somewhat successful at branding advocates of religious liberty as really just using their so-called spirituality to shield their bigotry and hate.

4. Germany outlaws homeschooling in large part because government claims the right to socialize children in accordance with public policy.

5. The former Soviet Union subjected people of faith to psychiatric abuse in order to "correct" their mental illness (read: religious convictions).

Bottom line: I pray that Gordon College wins this case that that Hosanna-Tabor becomes established as a very broad judicial doctrine and precedent.

Edited by prisonchaplain

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On 4/12/2020 at 7:50 PM, prisonchaplain said:

Dystopian futures that currently exist:

1. Some psychologists argue that children are not emotionally-cognitively able to grapple with spirituality with any sort of autonomy until they are about 16. Some secularists argue that parents should not be allowed to subject their children to religious indoctrination until that age, since doing so is akin to brainwashing.

But you should give your 8 year old hormone blockers... Hah hah.

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