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Pastor, Church & LawMember access only

by Richard R. Hammar, J.D., LL.M., CPA

Civil Court Review of Clergy Termination Disputes—"Exhaustion" of Ecclesiastical Remedies

§ 2.04.03

The courts consistently have held that ministers who fail to "exhaust" their appeals within an ecclesiastical hierarchy are forbidden to seek redress in the civil courts.[84] See, e.g., First Baptist Church v. State of Ohio, 591 F. Supp. 676 (S.D. Ohio 1983); Hickman v. Owens, 322 F. Supp. 1278 (D. Ga. 1971); United Pentecostal Church v. Morrison, 527 P.2d 1169 (Colo. App. 1974); Rodyk v. Ukrainian Autocephalic Orthodox Church, 328 N.Y.S.2d 685 (1972). This means that the courts will refuse to hear controversies involving the dismissal of a minister if the minister failed to pursue the remedies available within his or her church or denomination.

This rule has been recognized by the United States Supreme Court: "In short, the First [Amendment] permits hierarchical religious organizations to establish their own rules and regulations for internal discipline and government, and ...

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