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• The Montana Supreme Court ruled that a husband and wife who had been "disfellowshipped" from a Jehovah's Witness congregation could not sue the church for defamation. The couple had been disfellowshipped for marrying contrary to church doctrine. In announcing the decision to the congregation, the overseer remarked that the couple had been living in adultery according to church teachings and had been disfellowshipped for "conduct unbecoming Christians." The overseer added that "we got the filth cleaned out of the congregation, now we have God's spirit." The court concluded that such comments were not defamatory since they were privileged and protected by the constitutional guaranty of religious freedom. As to the defense of privilege, the court remarked that "it is firmly established that statements of church members made in the course of disciplinary or expulsion proceedings, in the ...

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Richard R. Hammar is an attorney, CPA and author specializing in legal and tax issues for churches and clergy.

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  • January 1, 1988