While ministers continue to enjoy a few legal privileges because of their status, they are treated no differently than other citizens for purposes of most laws and regulations. As a result, they can be sued, and they are subject to government regulations. The more common forms of legal liability, and several important regulatory requirements, are addressed in this chapter. These include negligence, defamation, undue influence, malpractice, contracts, securities, failure to report child abuse, diversion of church funds, counseling, and sexual misconduct. As you read the text you will realize that the widespread belief that ministers enjoy a privileged legal status is largely a misconception. The importance of this chapter should be apparent. Ministers are being sued today in increasing numbers for a wide variety of reasons. A thorough understanding of this chapter will help you, or your minister, to avoid many of the kinds of behavior that may result in legal liability.
Ministers may be sued for a variety of reasons. Some of the theories of liability are new and in the process of formation. Others are well-established. In this chapter the more common theories of legal liability will be reviewed.