The Moody Bible Institute, a Christian college in Chicago, has filed an opening brief with the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit to defend its religious beliefs about men and women in leadership positions. This comes in response to a lawsuit by a former employee, Janay Garrick, who accused the college of discrimination.
The college requires its staff to adhere to its core statement of faith, which includes the belief that both men and women are called to religious ministry, but the office of pastor is reserved for men. Garrick knew about the school’s position when she joined the faculty and signed an application each year affirming her support for the college’s beliefs.
However, during her employment, Garrick assisted female students in lodging a Title IX complaint against the college for prohibiting women from entering Moody’s Pastoral Ministry Program. She also founded a group advocating against the college’s position on women in ministry.
After a meeting expressing concerns about her alignment with the college’s doctrinal statement, the college decided not to renew Garrick’s contract for the next year. She filed a lawsuit claiming discrimination on the basis of sex, which was initially dismissed due to its religious nature. The case eventually proceeded to determine if Moody had discriminated based on sex.
Now, the college is appealing to the Seventh Circuit, arguing that federal courts should not interfere in internal religious disputes and that the case should be considered under the “church autonomy doctrine” and “Title VII’s religious exemption.”
The outcome of the case could have significant implications for religious colleges and their ability to operate according to their belief systems. The college’s defense argues that if claimants can reword a religious dispute and bring the same institution before the court, it would undermine First Amendment and federal civil rights protections for religious freedom. This, in turn, could pose financial burdens for many religious institutions unable to afford lengthy litigation processes.