The tension between the religion clauses of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, guaranteeing the nonestablishment of religion and prohibiting the restriction of its free exercise, is clearest when secular courts are cal led upon to adjudicate the internal disputes of religious organizations. Such a d ispute was at th e heart of the 1929 case o f Gonzalez v. Roman Catholic Archbishop of Manila, in which the plaintiff alleged his right to be appointed to an ecclesiastical benefice in accordance with the terms of the canon law in force at the time of its erection rather than the more stringent provisions of the 1917 Code of Canon Law then in force. A minor milestone in the development of principles for the resolution of church disputes by secular courts, Gonzalez’s greater significance lies in its status as a forerunner of the ministerial exception, the legal doctrine which immunize s “religious entities from discrimination suits brought by employees with ‘ministerial’ responsibilities such as teaching religious doctrine or leading worship."


canon law, church property, church-state relations, legal history, religious corporations

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