Wisconsin Supreme Court Upholds Church Rights in Employment Cases, Affirms Right of Conscience

In a July 23rd ruling, the Wisconsin Supreme Court clarified the scope of the "ministerial exemption" that insulates churches from government interference in personnel matters.

In a 4-3 decision, the court ruled that in determining whether a position in a religious organization is exempt from employment discrimination rules it is necessary to ask: 1) does the organization exist primarily to worship and spread the faith? and 2) How important or closely linked is the employee's work to the fundamental mission of the organization?

The Court ruled that this approach is less intrusive to churches than a "quantitative approach" that analyzes the amount of time the employee spends on religious duties. The court also strongly affirmed the right of conscience in the Wisconsin Constitution and held that it provides "expansive protections for religious liberty."

The ruling decided the case of Coulee Catholic Schools vs. the Labor and Industrial Review Commission (LIRC) and Ostland.