- breach of contract based on the regional church's failure to convey title to the local church pursuant to the agreement to carry out such a transfer upon the church's repayment of the loan;
- wrongful eviction based on the regional church's changing the locks to the church in order to prevent the pastor from entering the building; and
- defamation based on the letter the regional church disseminated to law enforcement authorities stating that the pastor had illegally entered onto the property.
The regional church asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit on the ground that it was an internal church matter over which the civil courts have no jurisdiction.
Ecclesiastical abstention and ministerial exception
The ecclesiastical abstention doctrine is based on a "long line of Supreme Court cases that affirm the fundamental right of churches to decide for themselves, free from state interference, matters of church government as well as those of faith and doctrine." The related ministerial exception "precludes application of [employment discrimination laws] to claims concerning the employment relationship between a religious institution and its ministers." As the United States Supreme Court noted in a unanimous ruling in 2012: "The exception … ensures that the authority to select and control who will minister to the faithful—a matter strictly ecclesiastical—is the church's alone." Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and Sch. v. EEOC, 132 S. Ct. 694 (2012).