Key point 8-10.1. The civil courts have consistently ruled that the First Amendment prevents the civil courts from applying employment laws to the relationship between a church and a minister.
A federal appeals court ruled that it was barred by the “ministerial exception” from resolving a dismissed minister’s breach of contract claim against his former church despite his insistence that the dispute could be resolved without the need for the court to interpret or apply church doctrine. In December 2012, a church’s deacon board recommended, and the church voted unanimously to accept, a candidate for the position of church pastor. In March 2013, the pastor and church officials executed an employment contract (“the Agreement”) establishing that the pastor would serve as the church’s pastor for a 20-year term, beginning December 2012 and subject to termination “for cause.” If the church removed him without cause before the 20-year term expired, it would be required to pay him the salary and benefits he would have received for the unexpired term of the Agreement. The Agreement specified that the pastor could be terminated for cause if he “commits any serious moral or criminal offense (“serious offense”) including, but not limited to, adultery, embezzlement, or fraud, is convicted of a felony, or commits any other act which is a violation of applicable law” or if he became incapacitated through illness or injury.