The ministerial exception is a legal doctrine in the United States intended to protect the freedom of religion by exempting religious institutions from anti-discrimination laws in hiring employees. The exception bars the application of civil rights laws to churches' employment relationships with ministers as the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects a "church's right to decide matters of governance and internal organization" and the Establishment Clause forbids "excessive government entanglement with religion." For example, the US government cannot force the Catholic church to hire homosexual or female priests.
It is the focus of the DeMarco v. Holy Cross High School and Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC court cases. The Hosanna-Tabor decision broadened the ministerial exception to allow the firing of a teacher with narcolepsy from a religious school where her religious duties consumed only 45 minutes of each workday, and who otherwise taught secular subjects. Later that year, the Fifth Circuit held that the Music Director and pianist at a church was also covered by the exception. The panel reasoned that by playing the piano at services, the pianist served an integral role at services and assisted in conveying the church's message to its congregation.
- Sullivan, Amy (October 7, 2011). "TIME Magazine". Why Catholic Bishops are Targeting Obama on Religious Freedom. TIME Magazine Inc. Retrieved October 9, 2011.
- Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & Sch. v. E.E.O.C., 132 S. Ct. 694, 708 (2012)
- Cannata v. Catholic Diocese of Austin, 700 F.3d 169, 177 (5th Cir. 2012)