Orr Not: Ecclesiastical Abstention Doctrine Bars Pastor’s Claims Arising from Internal Sexual Harassment Investigation

Illinois Courts continue to respect ecclesiastical boundaries in matters of internal church governance. This year, an Illinois court ruled a pastor disciplined for sexual harassment could not seek judicial relief arising from his church denomination’s internal investigation of a sexual harassment claim against him. Instead, the court deferred to the religious institution’s internal mechanisms as a matter of First Amendment “ecclesiastical abstention,” since all statements at issue were made within such internal church proceedings.

Oral Argument Heard: For and Against the Clergy Housing Allowance

On October 24, 2018, a three-judge panel of the federal Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in Gaylor v. Mnuchin, a tax case brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) and its individual leaders challenging the constitutionality of tax exemption for the venerable clergy housing allowance. Attorneys from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for U.S. Treasury Secretary and the IRS Commissioner, as well as a group of religious intervenors, urged the court to uphold the exemption and defended its basis in the Constitution and related religious liberty jurisprudence. Attorneys for FFRF and a group of opposing tax professors contended that the allowance favors religion in violation of the First Amendment.