A federal judge in Mississippi has turned down a request to dismiss a lawsuit against the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention on religious liberty grounds.
Senior U.S. District Judge Glen H. Davidson ruled Jan. 18 that claims by a former Baptist state convention executive that leaders of the mission agency orchestrated his firing and tried to interfere with other business arrangements can move forward.
NAMB lawyers had argued the dispute with former Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware Executive Director Will McRaney was over internal workings of a religious organization and not subject to judgment by a secular court.
The judge disagreed, however, finding that a First Amendment doctrine that limits civil courts from resolving disputes about ecclesiastical polity applies only to employer/employee relationships.
Because the 560-church two-state convention is a separate organization from NAMB, the judge said the “ministerial exception” does not come into play.
The judge said a similar doctrine known as the “ecclesiastical abstention” also does not bar the case, because it does not necessarily delve into matters of religious doctrine.
McRaney claims that NAMB officials pressured state convention leaders to fire him in 2015 by threatening to withhold $1 million a year in denominational funding. He further alleges that national leaders tried to get him disinvited from speaking engagements and defamed him by posting a photograph at NAMB headquarters portraying him as a troublemaker.
Judge Davidson did throw out an interference claim in Florida, saying that since his participation in that particular event was not canceled, McRaney suffered no damages.
Since his departure from Maryland, McRaney has written extensively arguing the “new NAMB” under President Kevin Ezell isn’t working for Southern Baptists.