Christian Ministries Win Right to Fire Workers Who Violate Beliefs

gavel court case
(Brian Turner/Flickr/Creative Commons)
In an age where Christian-owned companies are being penalized for denying customer services that violate their morals, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) won a major victory in Federal Court.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in Conlon v. InterVarsity Christian Fellowship affirmed the freedom of faith-based groups to make employment decisions consistent with their beliefs.

Here's the backstory: Alyce Conlon filed a lawsuit against IVF after she was terminated for failing to reconcile her marriage. She was put on paid leave so she could work on her marriage. In Dec. 2011, IVF fired the spiritual director because the group didn't see the progress it hoped for. Conlon's husband later filed for divorce.

"Because IVCF is a religious organization and Conlon was a ministerial employee, IVCF's decision to terminate her employment cannot be challenged under federal or state employment discrimination laws," the three-judge panel declared. "The Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses do not permit federal or state courts to adjudicate such matters when the defendant properly asserts the ministerial exception as an affirmative defense."

As the 6th Circuit affirmed, Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Legal Counsel David Hacker said the ability of faith-based groups to make employment decisions consistent with the very faith they espouse is a "structural limitation imposed on the government by the Religion Clauses [of the First Amendment], a limitation that can never be waived."

"The court was right to recognize that this freedom extends to groups beyond just those that are directly run by churches and denominations," Hacker said. "No one should be coerced by the government to act contrary to their deepest, historically recognized faith convictions."

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