Most employers in California are not allowed to discriminate against employees or candidates for employment based on their religious beliefs and practices. However, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does permit some exceptions to religious discrimination rules. Title VII allows religious organizations to give preference to job candidates who share their organization’s religious beliefs.
Under Title VII, organizations qualify for a religious discrimination exception if their primary purpose is a religious one. A qualifying organization may be one that engages in daily religious activities or states a religious purpose in its articles of incorporation. Religious institutions might make hiring decisions based on shared religious beliefs, but they cannot discriminate against job candidates or employees for any other reason.
Title VII also includes a ministerial exception that bars religious clergy members from filing discrimination claims against their employers or prospective employers. A ministerial exception was included in Title VII in order to uphold the First Amendment by not allowing government regulations to interfere with church administration. However, there have been some harassment claims brought by clergy members in which courts ruled that interfering in the case would not be unconstitutional.
A person may be a victim of workplace discrimination at a religious organization if they were discriminated against for a non-religious reason. For example, a religious organization cannot deny someone employment by claiming that a religious tenet prohibits them from hiring a person of a particular race. A lawyer might assist a client who has been discriminated against at a religious workplace by determining if a discrimination claim should be pursued.