RALEIGH, N.C. - The Supreme Court of Kentucky has unanimously agreed with the position of Campbell Law Assistant Professor of Law Amos Jones in a First Amendment case he argued in August. In Kirby v. Lexington Theological Seminary on Thursday, April 17, the court ruled in favor of his client, a tenured theologian, reversing a unanimous 2012 Court of Appeals decision against Dr. Jimmy Kirby.
The case in question revolved around the appeal of a former professor with tenure who claims that he was wrongfully dismissed in 2009, as the seminary endured economic uncertainty. The seminary had successfully argued that the firings were not challengeable because of the newly recognized "ministerial exception," first in Fayette Circuit Court in Jones’s native Lexington in 2009, before Jones accepted the case pro bono noticing the constitutional matter of first impression for Kentucky courts, and again in 2012 before the Kentucky Court of Appeals, which cited intervening precedent from the Supreme Court of the United States. The high court held in January 2012 that religious organizations can hire or fire certain kinds of employees without government review, for the first time recognizing an exception that had appeared in common law 40 years earlier.
Jones argued that his client’s employment was not ministerial as the Supreme Court has conceived of the new exception and that the dispute was based on simple contract violations and racial discrimination rather than on internal affairs of the faith. The plaintiff, Dr. Jimmy Kirby, is an unordained layman who belongs to the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, but the institution is related to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) denomination. Kirby, who earned a doctorate in theology from Boston University and taught courses in social ethics for 15 years at the Seminary, alleged that the institution’s tenure policy prohibited firing without due process. While the Court found Kirby to be a ministerial employee, enumerating newly minted "Kirby Factors" in its 42-page opinion, it nevertheless decided that his contract claims should be adjudicated in the courts, reversing the two lower courts that had dismissed the case since Kirby filed suit in 2009.
Jones teaches and writes in the areas of civil rights, religious freedom, legal ethics and contracts, focusing on contemporary conflicts resulting from competing liberties enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.
A vigorous public advocate, Jones has advised Republic of Georgia scholar-practitioners on liberty provisions of the constitution framed after that country’s Rose Revolution of 2003. In April 2012, he delivered expert testimony at an oversight hearing in Washington, D.C., on the most effective ways to improve enforcement of D.C.'s Human Rights Act of 1978, and in November 2012 he appeared as an invited guest of the law faculty at the Universidad de los Andes in Bogota, Colombia, critiquing that country’s experimentation with affirmative action remedies for blacks there. Last February he delivered a faculty workshop and a public lecture at the University of Kentucky to kick off the law school’s observance of Black History Month.
A Trustee of The First Baptist Church Foundation in Washington, D.C., and a former Resident Trustee of International House New York, Jones serves on Campbell Law’s Community, Diversity and Student Life Committee and is serving his second-consecutive year as Vice Chair of Campbell Law’s Faculty Recruitment Committee.
Before coming to Campbell Law, Jones practiced in the international trade and commercial litigation groups of Bryan Cave LLP in Washington, D.C. Prior to entering the legal profession, he was a journalist for Pulitzer Prize-winning newspapers in Georgia, Kentucky, New York, and North Carolina.
Jones graduated with honors in political science from Emory University, where he was a Harry S. Truman Scholar, earned his Master of Science from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, and earned his J.D. from Harvard Law School, where he served as an executive editor of both the Harvard BlackLetter Law Journal and the Harvard Human Rights Journal and was President of Direct Action. While at Harvard, he was awarded a Fulbright Postgraduate Scholarship, on which he spent his first year out of law school as a visiting scholar in the Centre for Comparative Constitutional Studies at Australia’s University of Melbourne.
Jones credits his understanding of the tension between religious freedom and individual rights with a course he took as a first-year law student, Church and State.
"Thank God for gifted educators," Jones said. "But for the tutelage of Professor John Mansfield, who was funeralized the day before the Supreme Court issued its decision and had spent 50 years on one law faculty, I probably would be neither a professor nor an advocate in the field of religious liberty."
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