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Michigan Courts recognize "ministerial exception" to employment discrimination laws

In a recent discrimination claim brought against the Lansing Diocese of the Catholic Church, the Michigan Court of Appeals adopted and recognized the "ministerial exception" to  laws against job discrimination.

Madeline Weishuhn, who taught math and religion at St. Mary's Elementary School in Mt. Morris, sued the Catholic Diocese, claiming that the school fired her in retaliation for protected activity and in violation of the "Whistleblower" statute and Civil Rights Act.  The Court noted that at least superficially, Weishuhn was a "ministerial" employee whose duties were primarily of a liturgical or religious nature.  If that assessment is accurate, the First Amendment requirement of separation of church and state required that the civil authorities not interfere in her employment relationship.  To assure that her claim was properly evaluated, the Court returned the case to the trial court to thoroughly investigate the Plaintiff's teaching responsibilities as a foundation for deterimining whether her job was primarily ministerial in nature and therefore exempt from laws governing discrimination.

Obviously, a court would be inviting substantial controversy if it were to attempt to enforce civil constraints on gender discrimination or sexual preference discrimination against, for example, a church that does not ordain female or gay ministers.

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