• Key point. Most courts regard a church's membership determinations to be a purely ecclesiastical matter beyond the review of the civil courts.
• Key point. The civil courts will not resolve lawsuits brought by dismissed church members challenging the validity of their dismissal.
A Pennsylvania court ruled that it was barred by the first amendment from resolving a lawsuit by an individual who wanted to be admitted as a member of a church. Besides seeking a court order compelling him to be admitted as a church member, the plaintiff also asked the court to remove the pastor and board as a result of their failure to use appropriate texts for worship in the Episcopal Church. A state appeals court upheld a trial court's dismissal of the case on the ground that it involved issues of ecclesiastical law and doctrine which the civil courts are powerless to resolve. It relied upon what it called the "deference rule":