Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
‘Ministerial Exception’ Prevents Court from Resolving Dismissed Minister’s Wrongful Termination Lawsuit
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.

A Maryland court ruled that it was barred by the "ministerial exception" from resolving a wrongful termination lawsuit that a dismissed minister filed against his former church. A pastor (the "plaintiff") was hired as pastor of a Methodist church in 2009. His pastoral position was subject to a yearly employment contract, which was renewed in 2010, 2011, and 2012. At the end of 2012, the plaintiff's employment was terminated by the regional conference of the Methodist Church because it had "lost faith" in his spiritual leadership.

The plaintiff thereafter sued his church and Conference alleging wrongful termination based on his refusal to commit certain unlawful acts in connection with the administration of funds from a trust of which the church was a beneficiary. A year and a half before the plaintiff's termination, the church was informed that it was going to receive a bequest from a trust in the amount of $1,225,000. The trust provided that one half of the bequest was to be used for the general operation and maintenance of the church, while the other half was to be used for the upkeep of the church's cemetery.

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Posted: June 19, 2017
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