This week, the Ninth Circuit affirmed its holding last August protecting World Vision’s religious freedom. Several employees of World Vision sued the ministry for firing them because of differences in theological beliefs. They claimed World Vision isn’t really a religious organization, and therefore should be required to hire people who don’t subscribe to the ministry’s theology.
Every court to hear the matter so far has rejected that argument and the Ninth Circuit confirmed that once again in its new amended order. The only significant difference between the amended opinion and the previous one appears to be a section indicating a majority of the court determined an organization is exempt from Title VII’s prohibition on religious discrimination if it:
1. Is organized for a religious purpose;
2. Is engaged primarily in carrying out that religious purpose;
3. Holds itself out to the public as an entity for carrying out that religious purpose; and
4. Does not engage primarily or substantially in the exchange of goods or services for money beyond nominal amounts.
These are some concrete guidelines for ministries in the states and territories the Ninth Circuit covers – Alaska, Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.
The court found World Vision meets the above requirements. Unlike Manhattan College in New York that was recently denied a religious exemption, World Vision clearly holds itself out to the public as a religious organization, and has not drifted away from its Christian origins.
The World Vision case confirms ministries can maintain their ability to protect their religious character by hiring people of like faith. They just need to stay true to their religious principles in all aspects of the ministry.
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