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Issues that affect ministers and churches
Court Addresses Multiple Claims from Pastor, But ‘Ministerial Exception’ Doctrine Bars a Resolution to Age Discrimination Charge
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Key Point 8-10.1. The civil courts have consistently ruled that the First Amendment prevents them from applying employment laws to the relationship between a church and a minister.
Key point 9-07. The First Amendment allows civil courts to resolve internal church disputes so long as they can do so without interpreting doctrine or polity.

A federal district court for the District of Columbia ruled that a pastor's age discrimination claim against a denominational agency was barred by the "ministerial exception," but the court could resolve the pastor's claims of breach of contract, wrongful eviction, and defamation, so long as doing so would not implicate religious doctrine. A pastor and his wife organized a church (the "local church") in 1995. The local church affiliated with a Protestant denomination (the "national church") and one of its subdivisions (the "regional church"), but retained its organizational, administrative, and pastoral independence. Despite that independence, the local church entered into an agreement with the regional church with the following terms: (1) the regional church agreed to arrange financing to purchase property for the local church's use; (2) the local church agreed to be responsible for repaying the loan; (3) the regional church held title to the property while the loan was being paid "to protect against the church's default on the loan"; and (4) when the loan was repaid, the regional church would "relinquish the title to the property to the church free and clear of any encumbrances." By 2005, the local church, using "the funds of the church membership without any contribution from the regional church," had fully repaid the loan, but the regional church refused to transfer title to the local church.

In 2011, an officer of the regional church formally appointed the pastor as lead pastor of the local church. Although the pastor insisted that the regional church had no authority to determine who was the church's pastor, he accepted the appointment and accepted a stipend of $1,500 per month. The regional church discontinued the stipend in 2012.

In 2015, an officer of the regional church informed the pastor that it was time for him to retire because the regional church had "younger people" capable of taking his place and that his last day as pastor would be May 31, 2015. The pastor ignored this ultimatum and continued to assert his authority to act as the church's pastor. The regional church responded by changing the locks to the church without notifying the pastor, and by informing local law enforcement personnel that the pastor "had made illegal and unauthorized entry onto the properties." The pastor was warned that he would be subject to arrest if he attempted to enter the property again.


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