Religious Discrimination in Hiring

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating against employees or job applicants on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, or national origin. Title VII covers hiring, firing, promotion, compensation, benefits, training opportunities, and any other term, condition, or privilege of employment. The exact definition of 15 or more employees means 15 or more people on the payroll for 20 or more weeks in the current or calendar year.

Title VII allows churches and religious organizations to discriminate on the basis of religion. Title VII states that it does not apply to ". . . a religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society with respect to the employment of individuals of a particular religion to perform work connected with the carrying on by such corporation, association, educational institution, or society of its activities."

Under Title VII, religion is defined as all aspects of religious observance, practice, and belief. Churches and religious organizations can discriminate on the basis of religion for all jobs. This includes and is not limited to secretaries, accountants, and janitors. The basis for permissible religious discrimination is the First Amendment's guarantee of religious freedom. The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of this in Corporation of the Presiding Bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints v. Amos,483 U.S. 327 (1987).

While Title VII allows religious organizations to discriminate based on religion, it is important that consistent hiring practices be established. All religious organizations should have a written policy about whether or not they will discriminate on the basis of religion. The organization should make this clear to all applicants and not accept applications from those who do not fit the religious requirements. The intention to hire only Christians and any specific hiring policies should be stated on employment applications and employee handbooks. Along these same lines, ministries that expect employees to adhere to certain codes of ethics should detail these expectations clearly.

Christian organizations with 15 or more employees are required by Title VII to put up posters in conspicuous place informing employees of their rights, using the standard language approved by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC language is not to be altered regarding religious discrimination. Therefore, a Christian organization should explain to all employees the organization's exemption from prohibited religious discrimination.


Sample Nondiscrimination Policy

XYZ Ministry

It is the policy of XYZ Ministry not to discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability in admission and access to, or treatment or employment in its program or activities, as required by section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, the American with Disabilities Act, as amended (to the extent applicable to the Ministry), Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972, as amended, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, and the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, as amended, and their implementing regulations.

As a religious institution, XYZ Ministry is permitted and reserves the right to prefer employees or prospective employees on the basis of religion.


This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.