Ministers ‘work’ for God, not for Methodists: Members of the church exempt from employment laws
Emily Dugan is Social Affairs Editor for The Independent, i and Independent on Sunday. She was previously a news reporter for The Independent on Sunday. Her investigations into human trafficking have twice been awarded Best Investigative Article at the Anti-Slavery Day Media Awards and her human rights journalism was shortlisted for the Gaby Rado Memorial prize at the 2012 Amnesty Media Awards. Emily is on sabbatical until March 2015
Wednesday 15 May 2013
Ministers working for the Methodist Church are effectively exempt from employment laws because they work for God and are not employees, Britain’s highest court has ruled.
Supreme Court justices said that Haley Preston – who was a minister in Redruth, Cornwall – was working under a covenant, not a written contract and could not bring an unfair dismissal claim.
The ruling only applies to the Methodist Church, but has implications for anyone working in religious institutions which use covenants with God rather than contracts.
The Court of Appeal had previously ruled in favour of Ms Preston, after she brought an unlawful dismissal case in 2009, claiming she was pressured to resign as Superintendent Minister in the Redruth Circuit. But Supreme Court justices ruled in favour of Methodist Church leaders by a four-one majority after a hearing in London.
Lord Sumption said in a written ruling that the Methodist ministry “is a vocation, by which candidates submit themselves to the discipline of the church for life. Unless some special arrangement is made with a particular minister, the rights and duties of ministers arise, as it seems to me, entirely from their status in the constitution of the church and not from any contract.”
James Bax, Ms Preston’s barrister said: “This closes the door for any employment cases from the Methodist Church but it doesn’t stop a minister from a different church denomination trying the same argument.”
Reacting to the judgement, Ms Preston said: “The journey has been long and hard and I don’t give up easily.”
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