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Southern Baptist Ministry Urges Federal Court to Protect Freedom Over Matters of Internal Religious Governance and Leadership

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August 14, 2020

News Release
For Immediate Release: 8.14.20
Contact: Lacey McNiel, media@firstliberty.org
Direct: 972-941-4453

Southern Baptist Ministry Urges Federal Court to Protect Freedom Over Matters of Internal Religious Governance and Leadership
First Liberty Institute petition for rehearing en banc filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in light of the recent Supreme Court decision in Our Lady of Guadalupe 

New Orleans, LA—First Liberty Institute and Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP filed a petition for a rehearing en banc at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in a major religious liberty case involving the right of religious organizations to decide matters of church governance and leadership.

You can read the petition here.

“Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court made it clear that the Constitution protects religious organizations’ independence and their right to choose their own leaders and ministers,” said Hiram Sasser, Executive General Counsel for First Liberty Institute.  “There should be no doubt that religious denominations have the freedom to choose who is best suited to lead their organizations and fulfill their religious missions.  The Fifth Circuit should dismiss this case immediately.”

The North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention (“NAMB”) works with state Southern Baptist Conventions and other partners to share their Christian faith and plant new churches. The former Executive Director of one of these conventions sued NAMB alleging that NAMB influenced his termination. On April 24, 2019, the district court dismissed the case, concluding that the case would necessarily involve secular courts scrutinizing why a religious organization terminated its leader, and courts are barred from intruding into these purely ecclesiastical matters.  The plaintiff appealed the dismissal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, and a panel on that court reversed and remanded the case.

In NAMB’s petition, attorneys argue, “The panel’s holding is enormously consequential, injecting courts into disputes between ministers and religious organizations concerning internal religious governance and leadership and denying religious groups the special solicitude afforded to them by the First Amendment.  Indeed, the panel’s opinion goes so far as to permit the district court to adjudicate not only the reasons for a religious minister’s termination, but also the reasons for speaker selection at a mission symposium.”

In July, the Supreme Court of the United States in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru ruled 7-2 that courts must stay out of employment disputes involving important positions within churches and religious organizations.

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First Liberty Institute is a non-profit public interest law firm and the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans.

To arrange an interview, contact Lacey McNiel at media@firstliberty.org or by calling 972-941-4453.

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