Fighting to preserve the ministerial exception to employment anti-discrimination laws.
Christian Healthcare Centers v. Nessel, et al. – Ministerial Exception
Christian Healthcare Centers is a religious, nonprofit healthcare and wellness ministry in Michigan that serves all people. Christian Healthcare was founded to provide a distinctly Christian alternative to traditional primary care by striving to meet its patients’ medical, emotional and spiritual needs. Its mission is defined by religious beliefs that are deeply rooted and intertwined with all aspects of Christian Healthcare’s ministry and its care is based on the philosophy that spiritual disciplines such as scripture reading and prayer are vital components of a person’s health and wellness. Christian Healthcare’s ability to select employees who believe and adhere to Christian Healthcare’s beliefs, values and healthcare philosophy is essential to its ministry. The ministerial exception to employment anti-discrimination laws enables a faith-based employer to hire ministerial employees whose beliefs and actions align with its mission.
Unfortunately, Michigan’s employment anti-discrimination laws seek to eliminate the ministerial exception and are in direct conflict with Christian Healthcare’s rights as a religious entity. These laws prevent Christian Healthcare from hiring staff who agree with Christian Healthcare’s Biblical positions on sexuality and marriage. These laws would also force Christian Healthcare to abandon using sex-based pronouns and to instead force religious entities to adopt the language of gender ideology and prescribe cross-sex hormones, contrary to Christian Healthcare’s Biblical beliefs on sexuality.
By depriving Christian Healthcare of its ability to select and maintain employees who share the ministry’s religious beliefs, Michigan’s laws are fatal to the ministry’s ability to fulfill its mission. Unless the Court steps in to provide meaningful First Amendment protection, Michigan will continue to prevent faith-based organizations like Christian Healthcare from hiring those who share their religious beliefs. The end result of laws like those in Michigan is clear—religious organizations will be forced to choose between their religious mission and continuing to operate, and our communities will lose their unique contributions and service.
The District Court for the Western District of Michigan ruled in favor of the State of Michigan, failing to uphold Christian Healthcare’s rights as a religious employer. On August 22, 2023, Alliance Defending Freedom, representing Christian Healthcare, filed an appeal with the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
Our Role in the Case
The Independence Law Center filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Association of Classical Christian School (ACCS), supporting Christian Healthcare Centers. Our brief, written on behalf of Christian school employers, stresses the importance of the ministerial exception in preserving a religious organization’s ability to hire employees who share the ministry’s beliefs and values.