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Pastor, Church & Law

written by Richard R. Hammar, J.D., LL.M., CPA

Civil Court Review of Termination Disputes—Exhaustion of Ecclesiastical Remedies

Volume 1 . Chapter 2 . § 2-04.3

The courts consistently have held that ministers who fail to "exhaust" their appeals within an ecclesiastical hierarchy are forbidden to seek redress in the civil courts.196 This means that the courts will refuse to hear controversies involving the dismissal of a minister if the minister failed to pursue the remedies available within his or her church or denomination.

This rule has been recognized by the United States Supreme Court: "In short, the First [amendment] permits hierarchical religious organizations to establish their own rules and regulations for internal discipline and government, and to create tribunals for adjudicating disputes over these matters. When this choice is exercised and ecclesiastical tribunals are created to decide disputes ...

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