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.
An Indiana appeals court ruled that it was barred by the First Amendment from resolving a dispute between a church and former pastor over compensation and benefit issues, and rejected the pastor's claim that it could resolve the dispute through application of neutral principles of law requiring no recourse to church doctrine or polity. On October 17, 2010, a pastor (the "plaintiff") was "called" to be the pastor of a Presbyterian church in Indiana. On that date, the plaintiff entered into a contract that covered a three-year period beginning on October 18, 2010. The "Terms of Call" set forth in the contract provided that the pastor would receive a stated salary, housing, and other benefits, including five weeks of vacation.
In the summer of 2012, the relationship between the pastor and congregation began to deteriorate. The church maintained that the plaintiff alienated himself from the congregation when he "neglected his pastoral responsibilities" by failing to make himself available for pastoral counseling services, missing scheduled appointments with parishioners, and refusing to keep the church board ("session") informed of his whereabouts and activities even after being asked to do so. The church claimed that from June 2012 to July 2012, the pastor: (1) "abandoned" his pastoral duties and was absent from church, without informing the session or obtaining consent to take vacation time; and (2) repeatedly failed to provide pastoral services to the church and its members without explanation.