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On Demand

Church Autonomy Doctrine and the First Amendment

Total Credits: 1.5 CLE

Average Rating:
Original Program Date:
Feb 15, 2022


Church autonomy is a First Amendment doctrine altogether distinct from the more familiar claims brought under the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses. It was first recognized in Watson v. Jones (1872), and gave rise to a categorical immunity in the unanimous Supreme Court decision of Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v EEOC (2012). Moreover, because church autonomy is not an ordinary free exercise defense, the decision in Smith (1990) does not apply to truncate religious freedom. But just how broad is the scope of this autonomy for churches and other religious organizations said to apply to matters of an organization’s internal governance? Hosanna-Tabor approved of a “ministerial exception” defense applicable in employment discrimination claims, but do the same parameters apply to cases involving intra-church disputes over church property, to the rule against civil courts taking up religious questions, defamation by church officials, and still other claims? And why is it that trial courts have to specially limit discovery until threshold church autonomy issues are resolved, as well as permit interlocutory appeals concerning the applicability of the defense? These and other questions will be explored in this CLE.
 Carl H. Esbeck, R.B. Price Professor of Law Emeritus, University of Missouri
 This program has been evaluated by the State Bar and will not provide partisan or political views. 




Overall:      4.5

Total Reviews: 4


Raymond H

"Well presented and interesting."

Shawn M

"ok but very mundane and dry delivery - lecture"