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An ordained pastor (the "plaintiff") sought employment through the services of a regional denominational agency (the "regional church"). The regional church does not ordain ministers, but it recognizes ordinations performed by member churches. It also provides placement services for ordained ministers by enabling congregations in need of a pastor to obtain information on available ordained ministers. Over time, the regional church became concerned about the plaintiff's fitness for the ministry. It decided to "flag" his profile and decided not to circulate it to congregations seeking ministers. The plaintiff sued the regional church on several theories of liability including breach of an implied contract, defamation, emotional distress, and fraud. A trial court dismissed the case on the basis of the First Amendment guaranty of religious freedom, and the plaintiff appealed. A state appeals court agreed that the case had to be dismissed. It noted:
In this case, each claim in the plaintiff's complaint arises out of his relationship with a religious organization. The gravamen of each of the plaintiff's claims is that the defendant did not assist him in obtaining employment as an ordained minister but rather harmed him by withdrawing its recognition of his ordination. The central question presented is whether the disputes require the court to interpret and to apply religious doctrine and practices or whether the dispute is simply a controversy that involves church officials but to which neutral principles of secular law can be applied without need to inquire into ecclesiastical matters. On a reading of the complaint, it is apparent that the plaintiff's claims arise primarily from the defendant's decision to withdraw its recognition of the plaintiff's ordination and to refuse to circulate his resume to churches.
Source: Church Law and Tax | Richard R. Hammar