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United States Supreme Court Rules that a Teacher with Religious Duties in a Church-Affiliated School is Not Protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act

January 12, 2012  |  AAPD Power Grid Blog Team

by David Heymsfeld, AAPD Policy Advisor

Yesterday the United States Supreme Court ruled that a teacher in a church-affiliated school is not protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act, when the teaching job involves enough religious duties so that the job qualifies for a so-called "ministerial" exemption to the ADA.  The ministerial exemption is based on constitutional principles that prohibit government interference with a church's right to choose its own religious leaders.

The decision did not establish broad standards for when a teaching job is ministerial.  In the particular case, the teacher sometimes taught religious classes (about 45 minutes a day) in addition to her major job teaching secular subjects.  She had religious training and claimed a ministerial tax exemption.  The court’s decision was unanimous.

Since the Court did not establish broad formulas or standards, it will be left to future cases to decide what degree of religious involvement is required for a teacher to lose the protection of the ADA.  There is the potential in the future for courts to extend the exemption broadly to exempt most teachers in church-affiliated schools from the ADA.

The case is Hosanna-Taylor Evangelical Church v EEOC


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