• Key point. A church may be legally responsible for injuries caused by incidents of child molestation if it was negligent in selecting, supervising, or retaining the perpetrator.
• Key point. In some states members of an unincorporated church cannot sue their church as a result of injuries they sustain.
An Indiana court ruled that the first amendment does not prevent a woman from suing her church and a denominational agency on account of injuries she suffered as a result of being molested by her pastor when she was a minor. The woman claimed that the pastor began molesting her when she was 7 years old, and that the molestation continued until she was 20. The woman sued her church and the regional and national denominational agencies with which her church was affiliated. A state appeals court concluded that the woman could pursue some of her claims against the church and regional agency, but not against the national church. The court made a number of important observations that are summarized below.
The church, along with the regional and national denominational agencies, insisted that the woman's claim was barred by the first amendment nonestablishment of religion clause which prohibits "excessive entanglement" between church and state. The court acknowledged that some courts have reached such a conclusion, but it declined to do so noting that a review of the woman's claims "does not require any inquiry into religious doctrine or practice." It continued: