Pastor, Church & Law

Authority, Rights, and Privileges

Chapter 3

The increasing secularism of our society has led to a sharp reduction in the number of legal privileges enjoyed by ministers. Nevertheless, some important privileges remain.

For example, ministers are exempted from jury duty in some states. They are exempted by federal law from military service.

Ministers have the authority in all states to perform marriage ceremonies. And, confidential communications made to ministers acting in their professional capacity as spiritual advisers generally are protected against compelled disclosure in a court of law. This last privilege is a very important one. It means, for example, that clergy ordinarily cannot be compelled to disclose in a court of law statements made to them in confidence during spiritual counseling—even if the statements included a confession of criminal activity.

Another important privilege is the exemption of pastoral counseling from laws prohibiting the unauthorized practice of psychology. This privilege is of increasing significance today because of the emphasis that is placed on counseling. These and other privileges are discussed in detail in this chapter.

You should pay special attention to the conditions that must exist for these privileges to apply. This chapter also examines the nature and extent of a minister’s legal authority. Does a minister have the legal authority to sign documents on behalf of his church or to preside at church meetings? Is the minister always the president of the church corporation? These and other pertinent questions will be explored.

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