SCOTUS Won’t Weigh Whether Christian College Profs Are Ministers—For Now

A lawsuit against Gordon College will go forward in Massachusetts but four justices say the court will eventually have to clarify the “ministerial exception.”

At some point, the US Supreme Court will have to consider whether Christian college professors are legally ministers, and who decides that, and how, Justice Samuel Alito said in a statement on Monday.

But the case of a former social work professor suing Gordon College for denying her promotion is not quite right for those arguments—at least for now.

The court turned down Gordon’s appeal to have Margaret DeWeese-Boyd’s lawsuit dismissed based on the “ministerial exception,” which says that clergy are not protected by employment law, because that would be excessive government interference into religious matters. Alito, however, released a statement saying there are still concerns about how ministers are being defined legally.

“The preliminary posture of the litigation would complicate our review,” Alito wrote. “But in an appropriate future case, this Court may be required to resolve this important question.”

The statement was joined by three other conservative justices—Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett—signaling an interest in appeals from Gordon or other Christian colleges seeking exemption from antidiscrimination legislation.

For now, however, DeWeese-Boyd’s lawsuit against Gordon College can go forward in state court. She claims the school administration denied her promotion in 2017, against the recommendation of her department and the full faculty, because she critiqued the school’s stance on LGBT issues. Gordon argues it denied her promotion because she hadn’t done enough scholarship. The school also sought to have the case dismissed because it considers DeWeese-Boyd a minister.

Gordon revised its faculty handbook in 2016 …

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