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Dismissed Ministers' Rights to Pension Benefits

Court rules that it is permitted to resolve claim.

Key point. The civil courts are prohibited by the first amendment guaranty of religious freedom from resolving lawsuits brought by dismissed clergy challenging a loss of their retirement benefits based on their dismissed status, especially if the resolution of such a dispute would require consideration of ecclesiastical matters.

The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that the civil courts could resolve a dispute over a dismissed minister's right to pension benefits. A minister served from 1952 until he retired in 1986 in churches of the Church of God (the Church). During his 33—year active ministry, he made the required monthly contribution to the Aged Ministers Pension Plan Fund of 4 percent of his gross income from the ministry. Following his retirement, he began receiving payments from the Fund. Payments from the Fund are governed by the Minutes of the Church of God, which ...

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  • November 3, 1997

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