Legality of Church-based employment?
April 5, 2007 12:49 PM   Subscribe

What is the legality of requiring new applicants for a job position at a church to be a member of said church?

I'm not really looking for a new job with the Church of Latter-Day Saints but I did stumble across postings for Sr. Interaction Designer and IT Solutions Interaction Designer on NorthTemple.com ( http://northtemple.com/jobs/ ) which is the name of the internal design agency that the Church of Latter-Day Saints uses to build websites, etc. Within these job postings there are a couple lines that piqued my curiosity. First is "We need highly skilled designers who have a passion for beautiful, functional web design and a love for the work of the Lord." and the second is "Temple worthy member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints".

My question: Is this legal?

Ignoring the fact that it would probably suck to work in a church where you don't share the same religion as your coworkers aren't there legal ramifications to requiring your employees to become a member of a religious-based organization in order for them to work there? Don't employers have to subscribe to the whole "equal opportunity workplace" thing or is that wholly voluntary?
posted by rlef98 to Law & Government (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
It's legal, at least under Charitable Choice. Technically, it's the inverse of the First Amendment making no law in respect to religion in that the state likewise cannot compel a religious group to act in a certain way; in this case, hiring non-believers.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 12:56 PM on April 5, 2007


Well it's discriminatory and thus illegal to ask questions about the following during an interview:

* Race
* Color
* Sex
* Religion
* National origin
* Birthplace
* Age
* Disability
* Marital/family status

So, it's at least illegal for them to ask you about your religion during the interview, and thus whether or not you are a member of their church. (ianal, but this is common knowledge, i thinnk)
posted by tastybrains at 12:58 PM on April 5, 2007




Religious institutions have an exception specifically written into the law allowing them to do this.

"This subchapter shall not apply to an employer with respect to the employment of aliens outside any State, or to a religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society with respect to the employment of individuals of a particular religion to perform work connected with the carrying on by such corporation, association, educational institution, or society of its activities."
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:01 PM on April 5, 2007


Well, then, scratch my answer.
posted by tastybrains at 1:06 PM on April 5, 2007


It's not immediately clear whether the design house is, itself, a religious institution.
posted by scarabic at 1:07 PM on April 5, 2007


Perhaps more than you want to know, but I have this research on my computer.

(On preview, some repetition.)

Under federal law, there is a limited exemption for religious employers who wish to discriminate on the basis of religion if job is "connected with" the carrying on of religious activities.

Title VII does not apply to a religious corporation, association, educational institution or society with respect to employment of individuals of a particular religion to perform work connected with the carrying on of its activities. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-1 ("This subchapter shall not apply ... to a religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society with respect to the employment of individuals of a particular religion to perform work connected with the carrying on by such corporation, association, educational institution, or society of its activities.").

The religious exemption applies not only to clergy but to lay employees whose primary duties consist of teaching, spreading the faith, church governance, supervision of religious order, or supervision or participation in religious ritual and worship. Miller v. Bay View United Methodist Church, 141 F. Supp. 2d 1174, 1181 (E.D. Wis. 2001) (quoting Rayburn v. Seventh-Day Adventists, 772 F.2d 1164, 1166 (4th Cir. 1985)). The applicability of the exemption focuses on the function of the employee, and applies if the position is important to the spiritual and pastoral mission of the religious institution. Miller, 141 F. Supp. 2d at 1182 (citing Rayburn, 772 F.2d at 1169).

Under California state law, there is an even broader exemption. Under Cal. Gov. Code § 12926.2(f), a nonprofit public benefit corporation formed by or affiliated with a particular religion and operating an educational institution as its sole or primary activity may restrict employment, including promotion, in any or all employment categories to individuals of a particular religion. However, the employer is subject to the FEHA in all other respects, including, but not limited to, prohibitions against discrimination that are unlawful employment practices under the FEHA.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 1:08 PM on April 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


If you kick up a fuss, you might find it difficult to find any kind of work in SLC at all.
posted by solid-one-love at 1:26 PM on April 5, 2007


You might reach out to designer/blogger Cameron Moll and ask about his experience. He just moved to Utah in order to work for North Temple full-time and to my knowledge, is active in a church but is not LDS. He's pretty forthcoming in his blog about his experience with them, as a freelance client and now an employer.

Alternatively, you might just examine his site, since it seems to hold lots of info about working for LDS which could be helpful to you.

I am not linking his site (he's the Principal Interaction Designer at North Temple, so based on your post, he might end up being the supervisor of the open position, ergo you might prefer not to alert him to this post via his stats)

cameronmoll[dot]com/archives/2006/12/working_for_the_man_aint_no_cr/
posted by pineapple at 1:48 PM on April 5, 2007


Back in October, the NYTimes ran a very good series called "In God's Name" covering issues like this: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, bugmenot to login.
posted by peeedro at 2:01 PM on April 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


Awesome, you guys are a great help. Lame of me not to search for the previous thread regarding this topic.

Pineapple, I actually stumbled onto NorthTemple.com via Cameron's website - I'm aware that he works there but I was not aware that he wasn't LDS. That must be interesting for him.

Thanks for the info!
posted by rlef98 at 2:09 PM on April 5, 2007


As one of the crew on North Temple... a few answers.

Yes, we are required to be members of the church. As was mentioned, religious institutions have an exception to the religious part of the normal equal opportunity requirements.

North Temple is not a separate design firm... we are employees of the church. The site is just a public face for us to share our thoughts with the community (both LDS and design).
posted by zelph at 2:43 PM on April 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


Dude. Zelph. You rock for showing up here. I love Ask Mefi.
posted by rlef98 at 2:48 PM on April 5, 2007


Thanks for testing your link to our site... I saw this in our referrer logs :)
posted by zelph at 2:58 PM on April 5, 2007


As a clarification -- there are jobs where a church cannot require church membership consistent with Title VII. There's no bright line, but custodial duties, data entry, etc. would likely not be considered "important to the spiritual and pastoral mission of the religious institution." Communications work such as a web site would likely be considered connected to the mission of the institution.

In EEOC v. Roman Catholic Diocese of Raleigh, 213 F.3d 795 (4th Cir.) , the 4th Circuit applied the exemption (which is both statutory and considered required by the 1st Amendment) to a part-time music teacher because the selection, presentation, and teaching of music was deemed integral to the spiritual and pastoral mission of Catholic Church. The court also wrote:

"While the ministerial exception promotes the most cherished principles of religious liberty, its contours are not unlimited and its application in a given case requires a fact-specific inquiry. The ministerial exception does not insulate wholesale the religious employer from the operation of federal antidiscrimination statutes. ... For instance, the exception would not apply to employment decisions concerning purely custodial or administrative personnel. Rather, the exception shelters certain employment decisions from the scrutiny of civil authorities so as to preserve the independence of religious institutions in performing their spiritual functions. Where no spiritual function is involved, the First Amendment does not stay the application of a generally applicable law such as Title VII to the religious employer unless Congress so provides."

(Citations omitted.)

(I don't want people to conclude that churches are completely unregulated with respect to religious discrimination.)
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 3:00 PM on April 5, 2007


I'm aware that [Cameron Moll] works there but I was not aware that he wasn't LDS. That must be interesting for him.

I wasn't 100% sure whether he was or not; I just inferred that from the skepticism he blogged vis-á-vis moving to Utah to work for the church. But, Zelph's comment would imply that the Moll family in fact is LDS, so I was likely wrong.
posted by pineapple at 6:33 AM on April 6, 2007


Yes, Cameron is LDS. The "skepticism" you mention I think was moving from freelancing to a full-time job (my interpretation, not quoting Cameron).
posted by zelph at 8:52 AM on April 6, 2007


Correct. Skepticism only as in going from T-shirt and hat to collared shirt and tie :)
posted by authentic at 9:49 AM on April 9, 2007


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