Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Court Dismisses Defamation Claims Against Church And Pastors By Excommunicated Plaintiffs

In Pfeil v. St. Matthews Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession of Worthington(MN App., Jan. 12, 2015), a Minnesota state appellate court invoked the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine to dismiss a defamation suit brought against a church and its pastors by a couple who had been excommunicated for their criticism of the church's pastors.  Plaintiffs, an elderly couple, claim that statements made during a meeting of church members and before a synod review panel as part of the excommunication process injured their character and reputation in their small community. The court held, however, that:
any judicial inquiry into the truth of statements made during a church disciplinary proceeding would create an excessive entanglement with the church that would violate the First Amendment...