Please, Do Not Call Me Minister!

Reining in the Expanding “Ministerial Exception”

After fifty years of circuit court approval, the Supreme Court first recognized the ministerial exception in 2012. The ministerial exception requires employment discrimination claims brought by a fired employee “minister” be dismissed when brought against religious employers. The 2012 case, Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. E.E.O.C., left open who qualifies as a minister and what other types of claims could be dismissed under the ministerial exception. The Court weighed in again in 2020 but again failed to clarify a test for who qualifies as a minister. Circuit courts have attempted to define tests for who qualifies as a minister, and some circuits have heard cases seeking to expand the ministerial exception beyond the firing context. Recently, the Seventh Circuit expanded the exception to a hostile work environment claim in Demkovich v. St. Andrew the Apostle Parish, Calumet City. This Note describes the development of the exception, analyzes its more recent developments at the Supreme Court and among circuit courts, and proposes a test for who qualifies as a minister, as well as future actions the Supreme Court and state legislatures could take in delineating who and what the exception covers.

* J.D. Candidate, University of Illinois College of Law (2023); M.A.T., Dominican University (2018); B.A., New York University (2016). Thank you to the University of Illinois Law Review for their hard work on this Note and the entire 2023 Volume. Thank you to my partner, Mara, for suffer-ing through countless hours of law school talk. Thank you to my parents for their support, especially my father, Fred, a lawyer who told me not to go to law school, but then when I did, always wanted to talk about law school. Thank you to my friends and professors—you made my time at Illinois challeng-ing, rewarding, and enjoyable. The views expressed in this Note represent my thoughts at a point in time. My opinions are dynamic.

The full text of this Note is available to download as a PDF.