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Insights Insights
| 1 minute read

Fourth Circuit Expands Exception For Religious School Employees

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals recently expanded the Title VII “ministerial exception” in a case involving a religious school. Lonnie Billiard taught drama and English at a Catholic High school near Charlotte, NC. He was not Catholic, but the school did not ask its teachers to answer questions about religious issues. The school preferred that teachers direct students asking those questions to religious authorities.

However, the Court noted that the school did require its teachers to “conform to Catholic teachings; CCHS prohibits employees from engaging in or advocating for conduct contrary to the moral tenets of the Catholic faith.” Billiard is gay, which was not a problem for the school until Billiard posted on his Facebook page that he and his partner were engaged to be married, shortly after same-sex marriage was legalized in North Carolina. The school opted not to invite him back as a teacher, and Billiard sued under Title VII, alleging discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The appellate court granted summary judgment to the school, reasoning that, although the teacher did not provide religious instruction, he did perform vital duties in transmitting the school's tenets, including teaching his subjects in a way “agreeable with Catholic thought.” Faith “infused” the school's classes, even the secular subjects. “Even as a teacher of English and drama, Billard’s duties included conforming his instruction to Christian thought and providing a classroom environment consistent with Catholicism.”  Given all of these factors, the Court determined that the question of employment was a religious one, requiring that the Court not involve itself in the inner workings of the school.

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We conclude that because Billard played a vital role as a messenger of CCHS’s faith, he falls under the ministerial exception to Title VII.


youth services law, ausburn_deborah, schools, religious schools, insights