As you can see behind me, the NCLL ministry theme for video legal help in 2021 is “Times Are Changing in America.” This theme is apt, as many feel frustration, fatigue, or angst as they see our country drifting further into the progressive thinking dominating our culture. Many of us wouldn’t have believed the day would come when Christians would be told that church attendance is “unessential” and churches would have to fight government officials to keep their doors open.
The recent political tension in our country has many people worried, angry, confused, or fearful. I want to remind you that God is still on the throne, and our mission as Christians is still the same: to proclaim the name of Jesus. Our purpose as believers is stated clearly in Matthew 28:19: to “go . . . and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” Simply put, we are put on this earth to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our mission is clear and simple. It remains unchanged! The hope of America is not in the courthouse, the state house, or the White House; it is in the church house!
Our mission as believers transcends all political and cultural transitions. There is “nothing new under the sun.” We live in a sinful, broken world; but God is the same “yesterday, today, and forever.” As Christians, we’re thankful we know the end of the story! One day “every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” His Truth never changes. We know the battle has already been won! Evil only prevails for a time, while we await His triumphant return. As we understand the bigger picture, our hearts find peace and hope in the truths of God’s Word.
This year, The National Center for Life and Liberty will be producing a weekly video with corresponding resources aimed at encouraging and supporting your organization for maximum ministry with minimum liability. Our focus will be to equip your ministry to continue as a beacon of hope in your community and a light for Christ in this fallen world. We’re honored to partner with churches across the nation, helping them take advantage of opportunities for ministry in their sphere of influence in 2021.
For this week, the first area of legal focus is your ministerial employees. The word “ministerial” in this context does not mean that every employee has to be ordained, licensed, or commissioned. The word “ministerial” simply means that the employee was hired on a religious basis and is involved in sharing, teaching, representing, or modeling your religious faith. If they are truly ministerial employees, the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States does not allow courts to overrule the decisions of the religious employer.
This makes your ministry’s hiring policies, employee handbook, and employee agreements highly important in the days ahead in defining the roles and duties of those you employ. Even in states with “at-will” hiring and firing standards, where you are allowed to terminate with cause or without cause, you may not terminate for an illegal reason (and generally, religious terminations are illegal). This is why your employees should have ministerial functions so they may be held to religious standards for employment.
In 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in favor of Our Lady of Guadalupe School in an important case regarding the status of ministry employees. This ruling was to decide whether or not a school teacher’s role in the school in teaching religious studies qualified for First Amendment hiring and firing protections.
The initial decision by the federal judge sided with the school. However, the Ninth Circuit reversed the decision, stating that although the teacher had “significant religious responsibilities” and was “committed to incorporating Catholic values and teachings into her curriculum,” her duties were not religious enough to invoke First Amendment protections. This was a major case that could have had severe long-term legal implications if the Supreme Court had not agreed to hear and reverse the case.
The Supreme Court ultimately decided in a 7-2 ruling in favor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, finding that the government cannot control a church school’s decision about who teaches its religion classes. This is a major win for religious schools across the country. If the Supreme Court had ruled against Our Lady of Guadalupe School, the ministerial employee status would have been at significant risk in the United States.
In light of this ruling, your school or ministry needs to consider your employment contracts and employment handbooks. All organizational materials should classify your employees as ministerial employees. They have a role at your ministry for the purpose of propagating the beliefs of the religious entity that controls the school or ministry. And classifying them as such is important for your employees to understand and your documents to specify.
You can download our sample ministerial employment contract today. Additionally, if you haven’t yet had our team review your employee handbook or employee guidelines, you can send the documents to email@example.com. The NCLL legal team will be glad to review your documents to ensure your ministry has appropriate protections in place.
Contact us today to review your employment handbook, employment contracts, and other employee documentation to confirm you’re fully protected under the First Amendment. You can contact our office at 888-233-6255 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.