Can a religious organization be liable for removing a member on racially discriminatory grounds?

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Can a religious organization be liable for removing a member on racially discriminatory grounds?

My friend, who runs a religious organization, was wrongfully removed from the membership of a religious association because a mutual friend put him down as a reference for membership. The mutual friend is of another race that the organization will

generally not accept. Immediately following the no thank you letter received by the mutual friend, the friend was removed from the organization. The friend has paid serious money into membership and ordination and he is wondering if he has a legal pathway to have the organization pay him back.

Asked on December 5, 2016 under Business Law, North Carolina

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

The anti-racial discrimination laws do not have an exception for religious institutions, so the fact that this was a religious entity does not make this legal. BUT the anti-discrimination laws do not apply to all organizations: to oversimply, you can't discriminate in housing, in employment (i.e. can't deny someone a job due to race), in "public accommodation" (malls, stores, restaurants, bars, etc.--places that invite the public at large in) or if you receive government support or funding. But an organization that is wholly privately funded and which is not generally open to the public (and is not housing or a job situation) actually *can* discriminate in many cases. For example, you can can a private "whites only" (or "blacks only," Chinese only," etc. club.) So whether or not your friend has any right to get money back or to other compensation will depend on the exact nature of this organization. Your friend should contact a civil rights attorney and discuss the specifics of the situation in some detail with him or her, to understand if this is a case where he or she has some rights.


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