Methodist minister Haley Preston 'not employed by God'

A former Methodist minister trying to pursue an unfair dismissal claim has won the latest leg of her legal battle.

Appeal Court judges have ruled the Reverend Haley Preston, of Cornwall, is employed by the Church rather than God.

The Methodist Church had claimed that ministers were not ordinary employees but "stewards in the house of God".

The Appeal Court ruling opens the way for Mrs Preston, 50, of Redruth, to pursue an unfair dismissal claim against the Church.

Mrs Preston, who is at the centre of a test case, argues she was put under unfair pressure to resign from her job as a minister in Redruth in 2009.

Oliver Hyams, barrister for the Methodist Church, underlined the Church's belief that its ministry is "the priesthood of all believers" and argued that making the Methodist authorities submit to the power of employment tribunals amounted an unjustified interference with its right to religious freedom.

Doctrinal issues

He told the court: "A minister is chosen to serve God as a master.

"He is not undertaking, in the legal sense, to serve the Church as his master for the duration of a term of a contract of employment."

Dismissing those arguments, Lord Justice Maurice Kay said whatever the stance of the Church, "it surely does not embrace a doctrinal belief that a minister who is treated with unfairness or discrimination must be denied common legal redress".

The judge, sitting with Lord Justice Longmore and Sir David Keene, said there was nothing in Mrs Preston's "spiritual role" that was inconsistent with her being an employee, and the court did not need to resolve "disputed issues of doctrine" to rule in her favour.

He concluded: "This is not a case where the evidence establishes that the existence of a contract of employment between the Church and a minister is contrary to its tenets."

The judges dismissed the Church's challenge to an earlier ruling of the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) that Mrs Preston is an employee with the same right to claim damages for unfair dismissal enjoyed by any other worker.

The Methodist Church in Cornwall said it was unable to comment on the case.

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