Friday, May 20, 2011

Defamation Claim Against Pastor Dismissed Under Ecclesiastical Abstention Doctrine

In Kaplan v. Khan, (NY Sup. Ct. Kings Co., May 17, 2011), a New York trial judge dismissed a defamation claim brought by a woman against her former pastor.  At issue was pastor Nizam Khan's "rebuke" during a prayer service of Gloria Kaplan who was renting an apartment in her home to the pastor's daughter and a married man with whom the daughter was living. Khan allegedly told Kaplan: "you are running a house of prostitution and you are a whore, and you have made it just like the house of prostitution that was in the Bible when Hoffney and Phineas took in prostitutes into the temple." The court applied the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine to dismiss the case, concluding:
To the extent that the alleged statements yet convey any defamatory meaning, it is a pronouncement of the moral judgment of a pastor upon the conduct of a church member. Plaintiff acknowledges the religious practice of "rebuke," and, perhaps more importantly, acknowledges the underlying conduct declared by Defendant to be morally wanting.... To allow Plaintiff's claim to proceed under these circumstances "would necessarily involve an impermissible inquiry into religious doctrine and a determination as to whether the plaintiff violated religious law"