There are exemptions for religious institutions when it comes to hiring. They are allowed to refuse to hire someone due to their religion, sex, and presumably most other categories of people usually protected if it is 'against their religion' to hire these individuals.

I've also heard that the United States definition of religion is intentionally vague and inclusive, making it possible to meet the requirements of being considered a religious institution even if most wouldn't consider it to be a religion. For example Jon Stewart famously started his own 'church' to gain tax exempt status as demonstration of how lax the definition of church was.

That would imply a potential form of abuse. My old manager claimed that until recently golf was considered a non-female sport with discrimination against female golfers, I don't golf and have no clue how accurate that is but I'm going to run with the claim for my example. So lets say I own a golf club and want to refuse to higher women to work at my golf course because I believe golf should be male only. Since sex is a protected class I couldn't do it normally.

However, I declare my golf course to be a church of golfarianism where people come to engage in their religious belief that the world is actually gods golf ball and playing golf is a religious practice. I then declare that hiring women is against my golfarianism beliefs. Can I get away with refusing to hire women by doing this? How would it be disproved that that members of my golf course don't legitimately belief in golf as a religious exercise?


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The case of Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, 565 U.S. 171 especially the holdings make is clear that no absolute exception to a law is created by declaring something to be a religion (we also know that from Employment Div. v. Smith., 494 U.S. 872, which found that "The Free Exercise Clause permits the State to prohibit sacramental peyote use, and thus to deny unemployment benefits to persons discharged for such use"). In that case, plaintiff who was a form of "minister" in the church was fired for reasons related to a disability, and she sued on grounds of illegal discrimination. The court unanimously rejected the suit on First Amendment ground, finding that "The Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment bar suits brought on behalf of ministers against their churches, claiming termination in violation of employment discrimination laws" (the scope of the ministerial exception is narrowed w.r.t. ministers and employment discrimination laws). Thus the government must "have no role in filling ecclesiastical offices", and "it is impermissible for the government to contradict a church’s determination of who can act as its ministers" which "precludes application of such legislation to claims concerning the employment relationship between a religious institution and its ministers". Extending this, Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, 591 U.S. finds that the government also cannot define bright lines as to what a "minister" is (at issue was a lack of formal training for ministers).

With this background, what is to stop you is that you will probably get sued by the government, and it may be impossible to present evidence that your practice is analogous to that involving the prior SCOTUS cases.That is, from Guadalups,

there is abundant record evidence that they both performed vital religious duties, such as educating their students in the Catholic faith and guiding their students to live their lives in accordance with that faith. Their titles did not include the term “minister” and they had less formal religious training than Perich, but their core responsibilities were essentially the same. And their schools expressly saw them as playing a vital role in carrying out the church’s mission. A religious institution’s explanation of the role of its employees in the life of the religion in question is important.

Your best shot at getting away with this is if you limit the discrimination to ministerial positions, that is to the hiring of golf instructors. That does not mean that a simple "declaration" by itself conveys special immunity to you. The court could well conclude that your claim to being a religion is spurious. The courts so far have shied away from creating rules about what constitutes a "legitimate religion", but when it's obvious that something is not a religion, they can just say no.

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