WORSHIP PASTOR QUALIFICATIONS

While it might seem on its face that in the present state of the law there is no longer real doubt that the “worship pastor,” typically the music minister, has ecclesiastical duties even if exposition from a pulpit is not among them, see, Our Lady of Guadalupe Sch. v Morrissey-Berru, 140 S.Ct. 2049, 2055 (2020), some questions still arise.  For example, can a court decide at the beginning of the case with nothing but the Complaint, the first pleading, in the record that the job duties are sufficiently ministerial to invoke the Ministerial Exception of federal discrimination statutes like Title VII?

In Chris v Kang, Opinion & Order (D. Oregon, 2022), the federal trial court dismissed the case.  The Plaintiff alleged he was not hired as “worship pastor” because he was not a “native English speaker” and “not familiar with American culture.”  The Court held the claim was barred by the Ministerial Exception even though the Plaintiff’s Complaint was the only thing before the Court.  The Plaintiff also asserted that Oregon state law did not yet recognize the Ministerial Exception.  The federal court held that the Ministerial Exception was also derived from the First Amendment and as a constitutional level protection barred the state tort claim, too.

The seemingly secular job qualifications, “native English speaker” and “familiar with American culture,” if they were required by the hiring church in the reported case, did not disqualify the hiring decision about a pastor or minister from protection by the First Amendment.  The hiring church should not have leaked any requirements beyond their written job description.  The hiring church should not have communicated to an unsuccessful applicant any reason for the decision not to hire.

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