Church Membership

An Illinois court ruled that it was barred by the first amendment from resolving a lawsuit brought by a dismissed member of an orthodox Jewish community

Church Law and Tax2005-01-01

Church membership

Key point 6-10.1. According to the majority view, the civil courts will not resolve disputes challenging a church’s discipline of a member since the first amendment guaranty of religious freedom prevents them from deciding who are members in good standing of a church.
Church Members

* An Illinois court ruled that it was barred by the first amendment from resolving a lawsuit brought by a dismissed member of an orthodox Jewish community claiming that his dismissal lacked due process and amounted to defamation. A member (Aaron) of an orthodox Jewish community sued a fellow member in civil court as a result of the “sexual exploitation” of his minor son. A rabbinic court urged Aaron to dismiss his lawsuit on the ground that according to orthodox Jewish teaching that “whoever resorts to the gentile civil courts is a blasphemous infidel who strikes out against Mosaic Law, and he deserves to be shunned and excommunicated.” Aaron sued the rabbinic court, claiming that by excommunicating him it committed libel, violated his right to due process, and inflicted emotional distress. A state appeals court concluded, “The first amendment to the Constitution of the United States bars any secular court from involving itself in the ecclesiastical controversies that may arise in a religious body or organization …. Where resolution of ecclesiastical disputes cannot be made without extensive inquiry by civil courts into religious law and polity, the first amendment mandates that civil courts shall not disturb the decisions of the highest ecclesiastical tribunal within a church of hierarchical polity, but must accept such decisions as binding on them, in their application to the religious issues of doctrine or polity before them.” The court concluded that Aaron’s lawsuit against the rabbinic court had to be dismissed since his claims could not be resolved “without extensive inquiry into religious law and polity.” Thomas v. Fuerst, 2004 WL 74292 (Ill. App. 2004).

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