The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected a request from the North American Mission Board to dismiss a case brought against it by Will McRaney, the former executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland and Delaware.
The case, North American Mission Board v. McRaney, was on a list issued by the court on June 28 of cases denied certiorari. With the Supreme Court’s denial, the case is remanded back to the U.S. District Court Northern District of Mississippi, which dismissed the lawsuit in April 2019, according to Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.
McRaney was fired from his position in 2015. His lawsuit alleges he was terminated because he resisted changes required by NAMB regarding funding between state Baptist conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention. McRaney contends NAMB officials, specifically president Kevin Ezell, demanded his firing as retribution.
NAMB legal counsel George McCallum called the allegations “unfounded” in a November 2020 statement to Baptist Press, adding that NAMB has “consistently denied” McRaney’s claims. NAMB says the dispute falls under the “religious exemption” given to faith-based entities.
NAMB is represented pro bono by First Liberty Institute. In a statement to Baptist Press, Jeremy Dys, special counsel for litigation and communications at First Liberty Institute, expressed disappointment at the decision not to hear the case.
“The First Amendment prohibits the government from interfering with the autonomy of religious organizations or the local church,” Dys said. “We are deeply disappointed that the Supreme Court decided not to hear this important case. … There should be no doubt that religious institutions — not judges — have the freedom to choose how to fulfill their religious missions and with whom.”
McRaney asserts NAMB was not his employer and therefore the case does not fall under “ecclesial” matters, which the courts generally avoid.
In a Facebook post, McRaney praised the court’s decision.
“Today is a win for all Southern Baptists that believe that their local church and Baptist body is Baptist headquarters, not NAMB,” McRaney wrote. “Thank you, SCOTUS, for recognizing and upholding the clear separation and autonomy of churches and Baptist bodies when #NAMB trustees refused to. Baptist Polity and Autonomy is preserved. We look forward to the discovery process and building a public record with the evidence that will then be heard by a jury.”
The case could be taken up by the district court as early as this fall.