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The First Amendment and Church Employment Disputes

Courts are generally barred from resolving ministers’ employment claims.

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.

A Massachusetts court ruled that it was barred by the First Amendment from resolving a minister's claim that his dismissal was unlawful. An Episcopal priest (the "plaintiff") served as an interim priest until a new bishop was appointed for the diocese. The new bishop considered the plaintiff's criminal record, information revealed in a background check, information the plaintiff volunteered about his previous employment, and knowledge of the plaintiff's conduct as a priest to determine that the plaintiff could serve only as a supply, substitute, or assistant priest but not as an interim priest, priest-in-charge, or rector within the diocese. The plaintiff ...

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Posted:
  • January 1, 2008

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