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Court Barred by First Amendment from Resolving a Dismissed Minister’s Terminated Retirement Benefits

The court concluded that the plaintiff "sought review of the procedures that resulted in ecclesiastical decisions and necessitated a review of religious law and practice, which is exactly the inquiry that the First Amendment prohibits civil courts from undertaking."

Key point. Breach of contract claims by dismissed ministers, no matter how meritorious, cannot be resolved by the civil courts if doing so would require an interpretation of religious doctrine, or involves a claim that a decision by the highest ecclesiastical tribunal of a hierarchical denomination did not comply with the church's laws and regulations.

A federal appeals court ruled that it was barred by the First Amendment religion clauses from resolving a dismissed minister's claim that a denominational pension board acted improperly in terminating his retirement benefits pursuant to denominational rules when he was "defrocked" and ceased to be a minister in good standing.

An ordained minister (the "plaintiff") began collecting benefits in 2009 after fulfilling the three conditions identified in his human resource manual for eligibility: (1) he had remained as ...

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Posted:
  • November 1, 2018

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