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Breach of Contract and the Ministerial Exception

Court agrees to hear church organist's breach of contract lawsuit.

Key point. The civil courts have consistently ruled that the First Amendment prevents the civil courts from applying employment laws to the relationship between a church and a minister.

A Pennsylvania court ruled that a trial court erred in dismissing a church organist's breach of contract lawsuit against her employing church on the basis of the "ministerial exception" without any analysis of the functions that she performed or their importance to the church's mission. A woman (the "plaintiff") was employed by a church as its organist. She and the church entered into a six-year contract, renewable annually, obligating her to play the organ for worship services in exchange for a weekly fee of $275. This arrangement continued for several years until the church unilaterally reduced her pay to $50 per week. The plaintiff sued the church for breach of contract. The trial court dismissed the plaintiff's ...

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Posted:
  • March 1, 2009