It was considered contrary to the Equal Treatment Act when a church council published in a job advertisement that male applicants were preferred for the job as vicar.

EXEMPTION FROM THE ACT

The Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs has allowed for an exemption with the result that certain positions within religious communities are exempted from the Act. A congregation may therefore only choose male vicars if justified by the church council's ecclesiastical view and religious belief.

In the specific case, the church council applied for priests for two parishes. It appeared from the job advertisement that the church council preferred "a man with some experience". A female priest was already employed in the two parishes, and the request for male candidates could therefore not be considered justified by the church council's ecclesiastical view.

A woman complained about the church council and the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs to the Danish Board of Equal Treatment as she believed that the job advertisement and the special exemption rule constituted illegal discrimination. 

EXEMPTION WAS TO ENSURE CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT

The Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs claimed that the exemption rule had been introduced to observe and protect the constitutional freedom of religion where all citizens are entitled to unite in a community to worship God in a manner consistent with their beliefs.

In some circles, it is against the religious belief that women can act as priests. The exemption was therefore necessary in order to ensure the constitution.

However, the exemption only concerns employment of priests and does not allow discrimination against female priests after commencement of the employment.

Based on the above, the Board found that the Ministry had not violated the Act. 

THE CHURCH COUNCIL COULD NOT ADVERTISE FOR A MALE PRIEST

But the church council had violated the Act by publishing the job advertisement. The church council had already employed a female priest, and the job advertisement preferring male candidates could therefore not be considered justified by the church council's ecclesiastical view

In this respect, the Board noted that it is allowed to encourage an under-represented gender to apply for a position, but it is not allowed to give preference to the under-represented gender or to have such preference appear from the job advertisement. 

COMMENTS

The case concerns the scope of the special exemption rule applying to the employment of priests. The Board ascertains that the rule can only be applied if the discrimination is the result of implementation of the church council's ecclesiastical view. Other reasons such as to ensure an equal gender distribution of priests will not fall within the scope of the rule.

What is more interesting is that the Board emphasises that it is allowed to encourage an under-represented gender to apply for a position but it is not allowed to give preference to the under-represented gender or to have such preference appear from the job advertisement. The Board does therefore not open up for a further application of this option.

contacts

Marianne Lage

Partner

Maria Schmiegelow

Attorney