This Note argues that, in order to remain consistent with the Religion Clauses’ protection of religious autonomy, civil courts must defer to the religious group’s determination of which of its employees play a role “of substantial religious importance” within the organization in carrying out its religious mission under its tenets, and are therefore “ministers,” rather than investigate and make that determination themselves. Part I provides background information on the First Amendment and an overview of the circuit court and Supreme Court decisions that laid the foundation for, built, adopted, and applied the ministerial exception as described in Hosanna-Tabor. Part II analyzes several potential definitions of “minister” and argues that a civil court when applying the term must defer to the religious group’s determination of which of its employees play a role “of substantial religious importance.” Such a deferential standard is necessary in order to preserve the religious autonomy contemplated by the Religion Clauses.
Allison H. Pope,
"Of Substantial Religious Importance": A Case for a Deferential Approach to the Ministerial Exception,
Notre Dame L. Rev.
Available at: https://scholarship.law.nd.edu/ndlr/vol95/iss5/11