InterVarsity’s Victory in Sex Discrimination Case is Good for All Para-church Ministries

InterVarsity president Alec Hill
InterVarsity president Alec Hill

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) can set and enforce hiring practices based on its Christian faith, the Six Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Thursday. Grounded heavily in the precedent set by the US Supreme Court’s significant Hosanna-Tabor decision in 2012, the verdict maintains that IVCF could legally fire an employee headed for divorce.

In 2013, Alyce Conlon, a former spiritual director at IVCF, filed a lawsuit challenging her firing. She was put on paid leave in 2011 after informing her supervisor she was considering divorce, and terminated that December for what she alleges was “failing to reconcile her marriage.” (Her husband filed for divorce the following month.) Conlon claimed that two of her male colleagues in similar situations had not received the same treatment.

“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,” ruled the court. “It matters not whether the plaintiff is claiming a specific violation under Title VII or any other employment discrimination statute.” The court noted:

The parties point to no historical example in which the founding generation permitted any arm of the federal government—including the judiciary—to order a religious organization to accept or retain in a ministerial position a person whom the organization deemed unfit for ministry. To the contrary, the historical practice has always been that the government cannot dictate to a religious organization who its spiritual leaders would be.

In Hosanna-Tabor, the Supreme Court ruled that a Lutheran school teacher was a “minister” who could not sue the church that fired her in 2005, on the basis of the “ministerial exception,” which allows religious institutions to hire and fire employees according to their religious criteria. While the Sixth Circuit acknowledged that IVCF was not a church, it granted faith-based organizations the same rights.

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SOURCE: Morgan Lee
Christianity Today: GLEANINGS

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