A petition has been filed in the U.S. Supreme Court requesting that the pastors who work in religious initiatives should be determined by the church, not by local governmental authorities.
According to WND, New Life in Christ Church in Fredericksburg, Virginia is battling property tax assessments against its parsonage, which is typically exempted from such assessments.
This is because college ministers who provide Bible studies and worship to students at the neighboring University of Mary, are not considered "ministers" by the city.
Local city officials demand that these pastors be "ordained" first before being considered a "minister."
The case will be brought to the Supreme Court via a petition from several conservative legal groups, namely First Liberty Institute, Christian Legal Society, and the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLC.
They want the Supreme Court to overturn a state court judgment ruling that denies parsonage property tax exemptions.
The city reportedly refused to provide a tax exemption because it determined that the parsonage's married pastors, although they serve local students, are not "ordained ministers."
"Government officials have no right to substitute their theology for that of the church," said Kelly Shackelford, lead attorney at First Liberty Institute.
"New Life in Christ Church considers its college campus ministers' actions to be essential functions of the ministry of the church, and the city should abide by that decision. The city's own interpretation of this church's doctrine and what is a minister unnecessarily requires the government to delve into issues of faith and doctrine in a way that violates the First Amendment," he added.
Allyson Ho, a Supreme Court veteran and a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, concurred.
"For over 150 years, the Supreme Court has protected the rights of churches to determine in good faith who serves as their ministers. The New Life Church deserves that same protection," she said.
Her words were also echoed in the petition charges which states, "The court should summarily reverse the decision below because it reflects a 'demonstrably erroneous application of federal law.' For over 150 years, the court has confirmed that civil authorities may not second-guess religious organizations on 'questions of discipline, or of faith, or ecclesiastical rule, custom, or law.'"
The petition also pointed to the fundamental principle of the U.S. constitutional system that permits religious groups to make decisions over religious affairs free from governmental regulation.
The church also contended that the ministers, even if they're just hired to help the church in their undertakings, are exactly what they are because of the system under which they are under.
They further argued that while the city of Fredericksburg agreed that someone considered a minister by the Presbyterian Church in America is deemed eligible for the exemption, it later refused to grant the exemption because it disagrees with the definition of a minister using the Book of Church Order, which requires someone with "specific duties."
In addition, the court brief explained that religious freedom, such as ministerial appointment, is protected by the Religion Clauses, which the Supreme Court has always acknowledged.
Similarly, the First Amendment severely restricts the role of civil courts in resolving church issues.
"First Amendment values are plainly jeopardized when church [civil] litigation is made to turn on the resolution by civil courts of controversies over religious doctrine and practice," the brief noted.