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'Ecclesiastical Abstention' Fails to Prevent School Employee's Discrimination Lawsuit

The "ecclesiastical abstention doctrine," which bars the courts from resolving issues of internal church governance, did not prevent a church's preschool director from suing the church for disability discrimination.

Last Reviewed: March 16, 2021
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 Kentucky appeals court ruled that the "ecclesiastical abstention doctrine," which bars the courts from resolving issues of internal church governance, did not prevent a church's preschool director from suing the church for disability discrimination.

In 2000, a woman (the "plaintiff") was named director of a preschool and daycare center operated by a church. In her role as director, the plaintiff oversaw operation of the center on a daily basis; she was responsible for purchasing food, classroom materials, and toys using an account set up specifically for the center and separate from the church's operating accounts; and she managed the center's employees, including all scheduling, discipline, training, ...

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Posted:
  • November 1, 2018
  • Last Reviewed: March 16, 2021

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