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Penn v. N.Y. Methodist Hospital., 884 F. 3d 416 (2nd Cir. 2018)

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution allows religious groups to select their ministers free from government interference, including court actions alleging discrimination.  In a decision of national importance, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that this principle, referred to as the “ministerial exception,” barred an employment discrimination and retaliation claim that a chaplain brought against the hospital that had employed him.

Among other things, the Court considered the critical issue of whether the hospital was a religious group for First Amendment purposes.  The Court considered how the hospital’s Department of Pastoral Care operated, and how those operations were clearly marked with religious characteristics.  Further, the Court explained, resolving the chaplain’s claims at trial would have required a jury “to determine how a minister should conduct religious services or provide spiritual support,” which would necessarily “plunge [the Court] into a maelstrom of Church policy, administration, and governance.”  Because a court would have to “take sides in a religious matter” to resolve the dispute, the Court held that the First Amendment required its dismissal as a matter of law.

Penn v. N.Y. Methodist Hospital., 884 F. 3d 416 (2nd Cir. 2018)

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