In a legal battle that has captured the attention of both religious communities and legal experts, Dr. Will McRaney’s case against the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, Inc. (NAMB) has now reached the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
The case, which has been in the legal system since 2017, is not a typical employment dispute. Dr. McRaney, who has never been an employee of NAMB, has raised allegations that could potentially expose a pattern of misconduct by the organization. He accuses NAMB of interference with business relationships, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, all stemming from his work with a separate entity—the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware.
The case took an interesting turn when NAMB strategically moved it to federal court, citing subject matter jurisdiction. The organization then attempted to dismiss the case based on the “ministerial exception,” a move that was promptly denied by the District Court. However, in a decision that has raised questions, the same court later dismissed the case, claiming it would have to resolve ecclesiastical questions and therefore lacked jurisdiction under the First Amendment.
The court’s decision was bolstered when a false amicus brief filed by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) falsely portrayed the Southern Baptist Convention as a governing hierarchy, a description at odds with Baptist polity. It was recently revealed that The North American Mission Board (NAMB) colluded with the ERLC, Coordinated by Russell Moore, and had advance knowledge of the brief that was submitted to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals without any corrections.
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Dr. McRaney has now taken the case to the appellate level. His appeal questions the District Court’s decision, particularly its application of the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine. He also points out what some might see as procedural inconsistencies, such as the court’s decision to grant summary judgment after claiming it lacked jurisdiction. It’s a point that has left many wondering about the court’s reasoning.
As the case moves forward, Dr. McRaney has requested an oral argument, a move often seen as indicative of confidence in the merits of one’s case. Legal observers are keenly interested in how the Fifth Circuit will rule, as the outcome could set a precedent for similar cases involving religious organizations.
While the appeal is set to bring renewed scrutiny to the case, it’s more than just a personal quest for justice for Dr. McRaney. It’s a challenge to practices at NAMB that, if the allegations hold, could be cause for concern. As the legal proceedings continue, the case is being closely watched, not just for its potential legal ramifications but also for what it could reveal about the operations of religious organizations.