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In Pastor and Deacons Conflict, Court Says Intervention Barred by First Amendment
Key point 2-04.1. Most courts have concluded that they are barred by the First Amendment guarantees of religious freedom and nonestablishment of religion from resolving challenges by dismissed clergy to the legal validity of their dismissals.

An Ohio court ruled that it was barred by the First Amendment guaranty of religious freedom from resolving an internal church dispute involving the validity of a pastor's removal by the church's board of deacons. For many years, a church was governed by its articles of incorporation and a document titled "Preamble," which apparently served as a set of bylaws. Notably, the Preamble states that the government of the church "is vested in the body of believers who compose it. It is subject to the control of no other ecclesiastical body." Further, the Preamble establishes several offices within the church, including, among others, a pastor, deacons, and trustees. Under the Preamble, the deacons are the "helpers, counselors and assistants to the pastor." Likewise, the trustees are charged with carrying out the "directions of the pastor and the church that have been voted and adopted by the majority membership." Amendments to the Preamble were provided for within the document, which permitted amendments, additions, or repeal of the Preamble by a vote of "at least two-thirds of the members present at the annual business meeting."

The church hired a pastor in 1990, at which time the church's business and financial affairs were managed by the trustees. According to the Preamble, the trustees were responsible for holding title to the church's property in trust. In addition, the Preamble states that the function of the trustees was to "affix their signatures to legal documents involving the sale, mortgage, purchase, or rental of property, or other legal documents where the signature of trustees is required." However, the Preamble is careful to note that the trustees "have no power to buy, sell, mortgage, lease or transfer any property without a specific vote of the Church authorizing each action."

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