Last January, in the initial days of the Klouda lawsuit, I pointed the attention of the blogosphere to the earlier precedent set by Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. As I noted last year, this case involves the same institution and essentially the exact same question as the current Klouda case.
The entire section quoted below is relevant to current circumstances. One sentence I find most interesting. It appears that even in the Dilday administration more than twenty years ago Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary expected that faculty "[model] the ministerial role for the students." Not all ministers are pastors—other schools exist beyond the School of Theology and other degrees exist beyond the MDiv, after all. But the raison d'être of the School of Theology is to train pastors. If faculty are expected to be model pastors for future pastors, does it not make sense that they be qualified to serve as pastors? And even if you disagree, mustn't you concede that such an argument is reasonable?
A. Is the Seminary a "Church"?
We come now to the crux of this case: the proper characterization of the Seminary. The EEOC describes the Seminary as a religiously affiliated institution. The Seminary claims it is wholly religious.
Since we have already distinguished Mississippi College on this issue, see Part II, supra, we turn to McClure. Our task in discerning the nature of the Seminary and the role of its employees is more difficult than that the court faced in McClure. There, all parties agreed that the Salvation Army was a religion and McClure was a minister, id. at 556. Clearly, the Seminary is an integral part of a church, essential to the paramount function of training ministers who will continue the faith. It is not intended to foster social or secular programs that may entertain the faithful or evangelize the unbelieving. Its purpose is to indoctrinate those who already believe, who have received a divine call, and who have expressed an intent to enter full-time ministry. The local congregation that regularly meets in a house of worship is not the only entity covered by our use of the word "church." That much is clear from McClure. In the Baptist denomination, the Convention is formed to serve all participating local congregations. The fact that those who choose to participate in the Convention do so voluntarily renders it no less deserving of the protection of McClure. Since the Seminary is principally supported and wholly controlled by the Convention for the avowed purpose of training ministers to serve the Baptist denomination, it too is entitled to the status of "church."
B. Who are the "Ministers"?
This is a more difficult question. The parties have identified three categories of Seminary employees: faculty, administrative staff, and support staff. The district court concluded that the first two groups should be considered ministers, while the latter group were not "ministers in the formal sense." To the extent that these findings indicate determinations of fact by the district court, they must be accepted unless clearly erroneous. Fed.R.Civ.P. 52. The status of these employees as ministers for purposes of McClure remains a legal conclusion subject to plenary review. The Seminary urges that all its employees serve a ministerial function. While religious organizations may designate persons as ministers for their religious purposes free from any governmental interference, bestowal of such a designation does not control their extra-religious legal status.
The district court found that the Seminary makes employment decisions regarding faculty members largely on religious criteria. This finding is supported by the record. As previously discussed, the level of personal religious commitment of faculty members is considered more important than their devotion to the Baptist church or their academic abilities, though all of these qualities are desirable. According to Dr. Dilday, President of the Seminary, there is no course taught at the Seminary that has a strictly secular purpose; Dr. Naylor, the Seminary's President Emeritus, testified similarly. Though the record indicates that ministers are ordained by local churches and not by the Seminary, most of the faculty have been ordained. The Seminary expects the faculty to teach by example as well as by other means. The faculty models the ministerial role for the students. Based on the district court's findings of fact, we conclude that the faculty at the Seminary fit the definition of "ministers" for the purpose of applying McClure.