Courts hesitate to intervene in church leaders’ employment disputes — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily

Courts hesitate to intervene in church leaders’ employment disputes

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While many employees who work for religious organizations are covered by state and federal discrimination and contract laws, some are not. Those positions that involve execution of religious doctrines probably aren’t covered.

Recent case: Raymond Jones served as the senior pastor for a Baptist congregation and claimed he was told he would be paid additional compensation whenever the church was “financially able to do so.” After the congregation sold some land, he sued for the money, claiming he had a contract.

The court dismissed the case, based largely on the pastor’s job description. The court said the First Amendment’s freedom of religion clause requires the civil court system to stay out of religious affairs. Jones’ job description said he was required to “carry out other responsibilities put upon the pastor by scripture ... and fulfill personal responsibility to witness and encourage people to become part of the church fellowship.”

Because the pastor’s job essentially was devoted to teaching and enforcing church doctrine, the court refused to get involved in the pay dispute. Doing so would have violated freedom of religion and would have constituted government interference with religious doctrine. (Jones v. Crestview Southern Baptist Church, No. 07-CA-0471, Court of Appeals of Colorado, 2008)

Final note: For those positions you believe to be covered by the First Amendment, consider a carefully drafted job description that sets out the doctrinal job elements. That will make it easier to justify the exemption.

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