Skip to main content

Education, religion, employment

Durham, NC |
Filed under: Education law

Students have to be employeed through the university field education department to graduate from the master's degree program. We have to interview through the divinity school and are paid with federal funds to work in non-profit agencies or through school funds to work in a church setting. Thus, we are considered employees of the school either way under work-study. On our application we are asked to disclosure our race, age, marital status, # of children and their ages (Then in writing it states whether we are married makes a difference where we get a job). I was also asked how many surgeries I have had, whether or not I can still have children, and what I plan to do about this is the future. I was applying for a non-profit position. Can the school get away with this?

Attorney Answers 1


This student raises an interesting 1st Amendment, establishment clause question.

It seems this school is a private religious institution that accepts some federal monies for the purpose of placing some of its students to work for non-denominational, not profit entities (while still acting as the employer vis-a-vis the students). So, in this instance may the university pose to the student employee, who wishes to work in non profits, questions that are religious in nature?

The pole star case for federal funds applied to religious schools is Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) 403 U.S. 602. There the Court devised a three prong test applied to strike down a program that would have paid salaries of parochial school teachers of secular subjects.

To pass constitutional muster a government program must:
1) Have a secular purpose,
2) Primary effect must not advance or inhibit religion
3) Must not create entanglement between government and religion.

In Agostini v. Felton (1997) 521 U.S. 203, the Court loosens Lemon test emphasizing neutrality and requiring a showing of excessive entanglements to strike down a program on establishment clause basis.

In this instance the program itself seems to have a secular purpose, does not directly advance religion and seems to not create an "excessive entanglement" Thus, it seems the university can ask these questions. The fact that the participants in this program may be excluded based on answers to some of the questions is troubling but may not be enough of an entaglement under preset case law.

Good luck and mark this answer as helpful if you found it so.

This answer contains information intended only for the use of the individual or entity named above and may be protected by attorney-client privilege or work product doctorine. However, the mere receipt of this answer, alone, is not sufficient to create an attorney-client relationship. If the reader of this is not the intended recipient or the employee or agent responsible for delivering it to the intended recipient, any dissemination, publication or copying of this answerer is strictly prohibited. The sender does not accept any responsibility for any loss, disruption or damage to your data or computer system that may occur while using data contained in, or transmitted with, this answer. Should the reader have any questions please feel free to contact Attorney Kotler at or 330-777-0065 Thank you and please indicate if you found this answer and / or the link(s) helpful.

Mark as helpful

1 lawyer agrees




So, if we are placed in end of life/ hospices facillities, and the interviewer asks these questions they are safe under the law because it is a divinity school that is connected within a larger university. On our pay check it states ***** University, not **** Divinity School. This grad school is just a small part of a larger institution. Students are literally getting sick and diagnosed with PTSD after the interviewer asked so many questions that in any other field would be illegal. And anyone that is trying to work in end of life facillities would never have to endure that.

Todd Bruce Kotler

Todd Bruce Kotler


is the university public or private?






I thought that if the university recieved federal funds they were subject to title 9 laws



Those questions aren't actually religous either. When were you married, what does your spouse do, how many surgeries have you had and can you have children still?

Education law topics

Recommended articles about Education law

What others are asking

Can't find what you're looking for?

Post a free question on our public forum.

Ask a Question

- or -

Search for lawyers by reviews and ratings.

Find a Lawyer

Browse all legal topics