Supreme Court Likely To Define 1st Amendment Rights Of Churches
February 17, 2011 by Special To Personal Liberty
The Supreme Court is expected to soon deliver its opinion on a 1st Amendment issue involving an Oregon-based pastor who sued his former employer, a church, for defamation of character.
According to OregonLive.com, pastor Tim Tubra was fired by the Vernonia Foursquare Church in 2004 after clergy officials accused him of "misappropriation of church funds." Tubra, who was never charged with a theft-related crime, filed a lawsuit against the church after he discovered that his former employer made its accusation public in a letter that was read aloud to the congregation.
A jury in Multnomah County sided with Tubra and awarded him $355,000 in damages, but the trial judge threw out the verdict because he said the court did not have jurisdiction over the church's freedom of religion rights granted by the 1st Amendment.
However, an Oregon Court of Appeals upheld the jury's original decision, ruling that the church's defaming statements were not religious in nature, according to the news provider. Appellate judge Rex Armstrong said that accusing a pastor of theft is no more or less a religious matter than "accusing a pastor of child molestation."
Brooksby Kaempf, the civil litigation firm representing the church, stated that the upcoming Supreme Court's decision could make a lasting mark on the 1st Amendment and the free exercise of religion.
"This case presents the Court with the opportunity to clarify this important Constitutional issue and to uphold the right of churches to manage their internal affairs without courts getting involved," said John Kaempf.