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Issues that affect ministers and churches
Dismissing a Minister for Wrongdoing
Take care when terminating staff over moral conduct.

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 California court ruled that a church's music minister who was dismissed after it was learned that he was homosexual could not sue the church and church leaders for defamation and invasion of privacy as a result of statements made to the staff and congregation. An adult male (the "plaintiff") was licensed as a minister by a conservative, evangelical church. He was employed by the church as its worship minister for six years, and then became its worship director. As worship director, he directed all aspects of congregational worship.

The plaintiff was homosexual, but never revealed his sexual orientation to any of the church elders because of his perception that the church considered homosexuality inappropriate and in violation of scripture and church doctrine. No one at the church ever asked the plaintiff about his sexual orientation for the many years that he was an employee.

If a church leader was guilty of misconduct, it was the church's policy to confront that person and tell anyone in the church who was immediately affected by the leader's ministry of the reason for his or her disqualification from church leadership. Sometime before his own termination, the plaintiff had participated as a church leader in terminating another staff member after discovering he was homosexual, after which he made an announcement to the entire church choir (about 100 people) that the staff member had been removed from his position because he "had admitted to some moral failure."

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