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Part 3: Ministerial Exception: Defining Jobs

ministerial exceptionSo, Brent, what you are asking is that I give you a neat packaged formula to apply at the crossroads of mental health issues and constitutional law. So the lawyer and the psychologist stop at the intersection and shake hands! Could you possibly pick anything more complicated?

Looking down your road, the mental health perspective, the religious organizations don’t want to assign people to jobs that will destroy them because the stress is too high, medical services are not available, and so forth. How will you prevent this? You have candid discussions with people about the results of their assessments. And with their permission, you will share some of these results with their employers. You don’t want to discriminate because of mental health—but there are some situations where people with certain conditions simply cannot serve.

Looking down my road, religious organizations are allowed to define jobs—either with bona fide occupational qualifications, or by what is required of their ministers—or both. How should they do this? They should identify the stressors and problems first, then the characteristics a person will need to have, and the behaviors they will need to perform well. Will they need to learn an unwritten language, cope with the trauma of civil war, deal with extremes of heat or cold, or cope with highly chaotic cultural situations? Then they should say so, because then you can assess whether certain people can handle those things. Are certain spiritual qualities required? If so, you can assess for that. Are certain skills required? You can also look for those in their background and experience.

A religious organization can define a job however it needs to. But unless and until it does, you and I cannot be of much help. How can you assess whether a person’s mental health and other personality traits are a good fit if you have no idea what the challenges are? How can I defend a ministry’s spiritual and other requirements for its ministers if even the ministry can’t define what those are? A ministry needs to figure out what it wants and why it wants it. Then you can help figure out the assessments and I can help figure out a legally defensible approach.

More Blogs in the "Ministerial Exception" Series: Part 1Part 2Part 3 

Disclaimer: not official legal or psychological advice or opinion

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