• Key point. Most courts have concluded that they are prohibited by the first amendment from resolving lawsuits addressing a church's selection of a minister.
• Key point. A minority of courts have been willing to resolve lawsuits addressing a church's selection of a minister if the church failed to follow its bylaws, and the case can be resolved without any inquiry into religious doctrine.
An Ohio court ruled that it could invalidate a church's election of a pastor if the election violated the church's bylaws and if it could resolve the dispute without any inquiry into religious doctrine. A group of church members asked a court to invalidate the church's election of a new pastor on the ground that the election failed to comply with the church bylaws. A trial court ruled that the church breached its bylaws in the election of its pastor and therefore the election was not a legal action of the church. The church appealed, claiming that the first amendment prevents the civil courts from interfering with a church's selection of a pastor. A state appeals court upheld the trial court's ruling. It began its opinion by noting:
the church] is a congregational, as opposed to hierarchical, church, meaning that it is self—governing and does not answer to any higher organizational authority …. It is governed by whatever constitution, rules, and processes it has put in place for itself. However, the fact that [it] is so organized certainly should not grant to them the unbridled right to disregard and to violate the provisions of their own written bylaws or constitutions.