Paul L. Caron

Sunday, March 14, 2021

There Is No 'Priesthood Of Professors' At Religious Colleges: Professor Of Social Work Is Not A 'Ministerial Employee'

Inside Higher Ed, Court: Gordon Is Religious, but Professor of Social Work Is Not ‘Ministerial Employee’:

Gordon CollegeThe Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled Friday that Gordon College is a religious college, but that an associate professor of social work is "not a ministerial employee." If she were a ministerial employee, Gordon could not be sued for various forms of alleged wrongdoing. In this case, Margaret DeWeese-Boyd is suing Gordon, charging that she was not promoted to a full professor, despite backing from the Faculty Senate, because of her opposition to Gordon's policies opposing gay rights.

DeWeese-Boyd v. Gordon College, No. 12988 (Mass. Mar. 5, 2021):

We conclude that Gordon College (Gordon) is a religious institution, but that the plaintiff, Margaret DeWeese-Boyd, is not a ministerial employee. Her duties as an associate professor of social work differ significantly from cases where the ministerial exception has been applied, as she did not teach religion or religious texts, lead her students in prayer, take students to chapel services or other religious services, deliver sermons at chapel services, or select liturgy, all of which have been important, albeit not dispositive, factors in the Supreme Court's functional analysis. The most difficult issue for us is how to evaluate her responsibility to integrate her Christian faith into her teaching and scholarship as a professor of social work.

The Supreme Court has not specifically addressed the significance of the responsibility to integrate religious faith into instruction and scholarship that would otherwise not be considered ministerial.

If this integration responsibility is sufficient to render a teacher a minister within the meaning of the exception, the ministerial exception would be significantly expanded beyond those employees currently identified as ministerial by the Supreme Court. The number of employees playing key ministerial roles in religious institutions would be greatly increased. In fact, Gordon has recently attempted to describe all of its faculty, and even all of its employees, as ministers, over the objection of the faculty itself. It is our understanding that the ministerial exception defined by the Supreme Court is more circumscribed.

Legal Ed News, Legal Education | Permalink