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Court: Gordon Is Religious, but Professor of Social Work Is Not ‘Ministerial Employee’

March 8, 2021
 
 

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled Friday that Gordon College is a religious college, but that an associate professor of social work is "not a ministerial employee." If she were a ministerial employee, Gordon could not be sued for various forms of alleged wrongdoing. In this case, Margaret DeWeese-Boyd is suing Gordon, charging that she was not promoted to a full professor, despite backing from the Faculty Senate, because of her opposition to Gordon's policies opposing gay rights. The courts have not ruled on the underlying allegations.

But on her status as an employee, the court did rule. "We conclude that Gordon College (Gordon) is a religious institution, but that the plaintiff, Margaret DeWeese-Boyd, is not a ministerial employee. Her duties as an associate professor of social work differ significantly from cases where the ministerial exception has been applied, as she did not teach religion or religious texts, lead her students in prayer, take students to chapel services or other religious services, deliver sermons at chapel services, or select liturgy, all of which have been important, albeit not dispositive, factors in the Supreme Court's functional analysis," the court ruled. It ordered more hearings in the case.

Rick Sweeney, Gordon's vice president for marketing and external relations, said, "We are pleased the court reaffirmed the religious mission of Gordon College in finding both that the College is a religious institution as well specifically concluding that the plaintiff 'was expected and required to be a Christian teacher and scholar.' We respectfully disagree with the court’s finding that in this instance the professor was not subject to the ministerial exception. Gordon’s mission remains unchanged. The foundational basis of Gordon’s educational experience has been and will continue to be the integration of faith and learning as a distinctly Christian institution. We are grateful for the sacrificial ministry that our faculty and staff conduct every day at Gordon to mentor, serve, and educate our students in the Christian faith. Because this case is still in active litigation as the underlying dispute over a promotion decision remains unresolved, we will not be making further comment, and the college will be keeping all legal options open in determining the best next steps forward."

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