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Clergy Compensation Disputes

Court rules that it cannot resolve a pastor's lawsuit for breach of contract.

Key point The First Amendment allows civil courts to resolve internal church disputes so long as they can do so without interpreting doctrine or polity.

A Colorado court ruled that it was barred by the First Amendment from resolving a pastor's lawsuit seeking additional compensation from his church on the basis of breach of contract. An ordained pastor (the "plaintiff") served as the senior pastor of a church for nearly 20 years. He sued his church for breach of contract as a result of the church's alleged failure to compensate him fully for his services as pastor since 1991. He relied on representations and assurances by the church that it would compensate him whenever it was financially able to do so. According to the lawsuit, the church had obtained substantial proceeds from the sale of church property, and as a result was obligated to perform on its assurance of compensation.

The church ...

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Richard R. Hammar is an attorney, CPA and author specializing in legal and tax issues for churches and clergy.

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  • March 1, 2009