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Faith-Based Discrimination in Hiring

Can a faith-based organization refuse to hire employees who do not share its faith?

Section 702 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C.S. § 2000e) exempts religious organizations from the prohibition against discrimination in employment on the basis of religion. (Ohio has a similar statute.) Therefore, if an organization is religious for purposes of the statute, it can restrict employment to those of a certain religion in order to carry out its activities.

In order to qualify for the exemption, the organization must be primarily religious.  The definition is not included in the statute but has been explored by the courts.  For example, a 2010 federal case involving the relief and development organization World Vision examined if the organization is 1) organized for a self-identified religious purpose; 2) engaged in activity that is consistent with and furthers that purpose; and 3) holding itself out to the public as religious.

This exemption also extends to permit a religious organization to discriminate in hiring for its nonprofit secular activities, even if the employment is not primarily religious.  For example, in 1987, the Supreme Court ruled that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints were permitted to terminate a non-Mormon employee of a nonprofit gymnasium which it controlled.

Religious organizations should be sure that all documents (from employment agreements to corporate articles) consistently reflect the organization’s nature as religious and emphasize that all its activities are designed to further the organization’s purpose.

More information regarding religious discrimination in the workplace is available from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

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