Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
Court Rules First Amendment Bars Its Involvement in Defamation Claim Against Couple’s Former Pastor and Church
Minnesota
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 and gossip" against the leadership and ministry of the congregation. In addition to criticizing the plaintiffs' behavior, the letter advised them that they had "excommunicated themselves" from the church and informed them that their church membership had been terminated.

Subsequent to this letter the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod advised the leadership of the plaintiffs' former church to hold a "special voters' meeting" so that the congregation could vote to affirm or reject the excommunication decision. The plaintiffs and approximately 89 church members attended the special voters' meeting, which was held on September 25, 2011. A pastor addressed the meeting, reading from a set of prepared remarks, and published the August 22 letter to those present at the meeting. According to the plaintiffs, the pastor's remarks and the letter contained several defamatory statements, including:

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