Can a Contract Matter Be Resolved Without Resolving the Ecclesiastical Controversy Between Discharged Minister and the Church ?
In Gipe v. Superior Court of Orange County, 124 Cal. App. 3d 617, 177 Cal. Rptr. 590 (1981), the plaintiff minister alleged that the church had promised him one week of severance pay for each year of his service if he returned all the property of the church that he had in his possession.
After the minister returned the property, he was refused the severance pay.
The trial court refused to allow the claim to be argued by the state labor board, claiming the court was allowing an impermissible involvement in religious affairs.
The appellate court reversed, saying that:
"The argument might be persuasive if the dispute were over the question of whether or not the church had the right to discharge petitioner, but no such question is involved.
The only questions appear to be whether the church is required to pay severance pay conditionally promised and whether the conditions were performed.
That is a contract matter that can be resolved without resolving the ecclesiastical controversy between petitioner and the church.
We are unable to accept the argument that requiring a church to pay its discharged minister in accordance with its contract will have a significant chilling effect upon the church's exercise of its right to discharge its ministers on account of doctrinal or other ecclesiastical differences." Gipe, 124 Cal. App. 3d. at 628-29.