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Minnesota Supreme Court Ruling on Church Defamation Suit

A divided Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday settled the question of whether the state’s courts have any business settling claims of defamation made by church officials while excommunicating parishioners.

In this case, the Court was presented with the question of whether pastors and their church can be held liable for statements the pastors made about a parishioner during formal church disciplinary proceedings.

The Court in its ruling stated, “Under the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine, pastors and their church are not liable to former parishioners for defamation or related common-law torts for statements made by the pastors during the course of formal church discipline proceedings when the statements were communicated only to other members of the church and participants in the formal church discipline process.”

LaVonne Pfeil vs. St. Matthews Evangelical Lutheran Church. (2016) 

This case illustrates the importance of dealing with church discipline not in a public fashion, such as a Sunday service, but during a members only duly called church business meeting.

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