Clergy—Removal – Part 2

A Florida court ruled that it was barred by the first amendment from resolving a pastor’s claim his denomination violated its internal procedures.

Church Law and Tax2004-09-01

Clergy—removal – Part 2

Key point 2-04.1. Most courts have concluded that they are barred by the first amendment guarantees of religious freedom and nonestablishment of religion from resolving challenges by dismissed clergy to the legal validity of their dismissals.

* A Florida court ruled that it was barred by the first amendment from resolving a pastor’s claim his denomination violated its internal procedures in dealing with allegations of sexual misconduct made against him by a member of his congregation. An ordained pastor sued a denominational agency (“regional church”) alleging that it failed to follow its own internal procedures in dealing with allegations made against him by a member of his congregation charging him with having made unwelcome, sexually-suggestive overtures. A state appeals court dismissed the case on first amendment grounds. It concluded,

The question in the instant case is whether the civil courts can adjudicate a claim against a religious organization based on its alleged negligence in suspending one of its clergy. Where religious organizations establish rules for their internal discipline and governance, and tribunals for adjudicating disputes over these matters, the Constitution requires that civil courts accept their decisions as binding upon them. The interaction between a church and its pastor is an essential part of church government. In particular, a minister’s employment relationship with his church implicates internal church discipline, faith, and organization, all of which are governed by ecclesiastical rule, custom, and law. Thus, civil courts must abstain from deciding ministerial employment disputes or reviewing decisions of religious judicatory bodies concerning the employment of clergy, because such state intervention would excessively inhibit religious liberty. Southeastern Conference Association of Seventh-Day Adventists, Inc. v. Dennis, 862 So.2d 842 (Fla. App. 2003).

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