Supreme Court Case Could Place Restrictions
on Employment Decisions by Religious Groups TECHNOLOGY
By Jacob Berkman
Religious charities for decades have had a longer legal
leash than other employers
when it comes to making decisions about hiring, firing, and
other employment practices.
But a case to be reviewed by
the U.S. Supreme Court later
this year raises questions about
just how much leeway they will
continue to have.
At issue is a provision in the
1964 Civil Rights Act that excuses religious organizations
from following federal anti-bias
laws when they are making employment decisions about clergy
The idea behind the exemption was to promote separation
of church and state—and make
sure that a conservative religious organization couldn’t be
forced to hire a woman as its
congregation leader if that goes
against its theological philosophy, for example.
While the exemption from federal civil-rights laws is known
as the “ministerial exception” in
religious and legal circles, some
religious groups consider many
of their employees to be covered
by it, not just clergy members.
They say they consider it unconstitutional for the courts to decide who is a clergy member and
who is not.
between clergy and nonclergy
employees,” said Marci Hamilton, a professor at Cardozo Law
School, in New York, who has
argued several cases seeking to
narrow the exemption to explicitly cover clergy members.
This little girl made a contribution to DON-8r,
a fund-raising robot, during one of its test runs.
Academic Projects Test Robot Solicitors
How to Define Clergy
The question before the Supreme Court was sparked by a
schoolteacher who says she was
improperly fired by a Lutheran
school in Michigan because of a
The school says its actions
were covered by the exemption
from the civil-rights law because she was involved in religious instruction, but if it loses,
many institutions may have to
change their approach.
“The question in this case is
where to draw the boundary
According to court papers
filed as part of the lawsuit the
Supreme Court will review,
Cheryl Perich, a teacher, was
fired by Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and
School, in Redford, Mich., in
2005 after she was diagnosed
with narcolepsy, a sleep disorder. The school had urged Ms.
Perich to resign, citing student
When she refused and returned to work, school officials
told her she no longer had a job,
the lawsuit says.
In making its decision, Hosanna-Tabor noted that Ms.
Perich was hired initially as
a substitute teacher for secular subjects but was eventually
promoted to full-time and designated a “called” teacher, who
also had occasional religious
obligations such as leading her
students in prayer.
The school says that because
she was a called teacher, she
was akin to a member of the
clergy and therefore her employment was not governed by
federal civil-rights law.
But Ms. Perich and the Equal
Commission sued Hosanna-Tabor in a Michigan District
Court, saying that most of her
teaching duties had nothing to
do with religion and that Hosanna-Tabor used too broad a
definition of the exemption from
A ‘Pollyanna Attitude’
Hosanna-Tabor won the case
in 2009, but an appeals court
reversed the ruling last year. In
March, the United States Su-
preme Court said that it would
review the case in the fall term,
which starts in October.
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THE FUTURE OF FUND RAISING isn’t a topic that usually con- jures up visions of Star Wars. But that might be changing with two efforts testing robot solicitors on three continents.
Tim Pryde, a 21-year-old product-design student at the University of Dundee, in Scotland, built DON-8r (pronounced “donator”),
a small robot that travels through public spaces collecting coins
in a slot on its back.
Mr. Pryde, who built the robot as his final project, got the idea
by watching the negative attitudes people had toward street fund
raisers. “You often see people walking very, very far around them
just so they don’t get caught,” he says. “What I wanted to do was
design something that people wanted to approach.”
When DON-8r makes its rounds, it calls out “Hello, hello, hel-
lo” in a singsongy voice. When a passer-by makes a donation, its
message changes to “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” A flag
attached to the robot explains that it needs coins to keep going.
But while DON-8r is adorable, street fund raisers probably
don’t have to worry about losing their jobs just yet.
Mr. Pryde tested DON-8r for a total of nine hours outside shopping centers in Dundee, during which time the robot collected a
little less than $43 for the Dundee Science Center.
A more significant threat is Dona, a red-caped Korean-made robot that bows, blinks, waves, and wiggles its arms to encourage
passers-by to put coins in its collecting can.
During trials in New York’s Union Square and Korea’s Seoul
Museum of Art, the robot raised $30 an hour. The money was donated to Save the Children, according to The Korea Herald.
The “urban donation motivating robot” is the result of a collaboration of Carnegie Mellon University, the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Korean researchers.
“The trials were really successful because people really liked
the experience of giving money to the robot,” Min Su Kim, the design student who developed the idea, told The Herald. “There may
well be some substantial meaning as to why Dona works—but the
most obvious thing is that it’s fun.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Go to http://timpryde.com and http://
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New Report on Charities’ Social-Media Use
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NOT MANY CHARITIES are raising significant amounts of mon- ey through social networks, but the ones that are come in a variety of sizes, according to a new report. Fewer than 3
percent of the 11,196 nonprofit groups that responded to the Non-profit Social Network Benchmark survey said they had raised
more than $10,000 on Facebook in 2010.
Of the 27 charities that reported raising more than $100,000
on Facebook, 30 percent had annual budgets of $1-million to $5-
Nearly 9 out of 10 organizations in the survey said they had a
presence on Facebook. Almost 60 percent of the groups use Twitter, and nearly a third said they were on LinkedIn.
The report was sponsored by the Nonprofit Technology Network, as well as Blackbaud, a fund-raising software company, in
Charleston, S.C., and Common Knowledge, a consulting company
in San Francisco.
TO READ THE REPORT: Go to http://nonprofitsocialnetworksurvey.
com. —RAYMUND FLANDEZ AND NICOLE WALLACE