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First Amendment Bars Court from Resolving Dismissed Member’s Lawsuit

The ecclesiastical abstention doctrine prevents courts from reviewing disputes concerning “theological controversy, church discipline, ecclesiastical government, or the conformity of the members of the church to the standard of morals required.”

Last Reviewed: March 23, 2021

Key point 6-06.4. Church officers and directors can be removed from office in the manner authorized by the church’s governing documents. It is common for church bylaws to give the membership the authority to remove officers and directors who engage in specified misconduct or change their doctrinal position.

A Florida court ruled that it was barred by the First Amendment guaranty of religious freedom from resolving a dismissed member’s lawsuit against his former church.

A church member (the “plaintiff”) had served as a church deacon for three years when the pastor and deacon-board chairman called a special meeting to accuse him of heresy. The plaintiff asserted that the pastor and chairman had defamed him by falsely accusing him “of being a Heretical Apostate committing acts against [the] Church, Spiritual Beliefs, Faith and God orally and publicly in the presence ...

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  • April 30, 2019
  • Last Reviewed: March 23, 2021

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