SANTA ANA, Calif. (CN) – A California appeals court refused to intervene in a dispute between a church and a former worship director who claimed church leaders defamed him by telling the congregation that they fired him because he was gay.
Justice O’Leary cited the “ministerial exception,” which bars courts from reviewing a church’s employment decisions if the employee has the “religious duties of ministers.”
As a licensed minister and the worship director at Mariners Church, Robert Gunn was the “second most influential person” in the church, according to church leaders.
When Gunn told senior pastor Kenton Beshore that he was gay, the church fired him from his leadership position.
Gunn admitted that his sexuality conflicted with church policy, but said church leaders defamed him and violated his privacy by announcing his “sinful” conduct to the church’s staff and congregation. Gunn said church officials told the congregation that he had suffered a “breakdown in character” and was “a broken man.”
O’Leary ruled that the ministerial exception barred the court from reviewing the church’s statements to its congregation about Gunn’s firing.
“Gunn was aware Mariners Church considers homosexuality inappropriate and in violation of church doctrine,” O’Leary wrote.