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Court Rules First Amendment Bars Its Involvement in Defamation Claim Against Couple’s Former Pastor and Church

Case illustrates the reluctance of the civil courts to resolve internal church disputes involving the discipline or dismissal of members.

Last Reviewed: March 10, 2021
Key point 6-10.1. According to the majority view, the civil courts will not resolve disputes challenging a church's discipline of a member since the First Amendment guaranty of religious freedom prevents them from deciding the members who are in good standing of a church.

The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that it was barred by the First Amendment's guaranty of religious freedom from resolving a defamation claim brought by a married couple against their former pastor and church.

Prior to 2011, a married couple (the "plaintiffs") had been longstanding members of a Lutheran church affiliated with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. On August 22, 2011, the plaintiffs received a letter signed by the church's pastors that contained several allegations regarding their conduct over the preceding two years, but focused on complaints that the plaintiffs had been engaged in "slander ...

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  • June 19, 2017
  • Last Reviewed: March 10, 2021