Friday, June 12, 2015

Settling Factional Dispute Would Involve Civil Court In Religious Matters

In Samuel v. Lakew, (DC Ct. App., June 11, 2015), the District of Columbia Court of Appeals affirmed the Superior Court's dismissal of a lawsuit between two factions of the Kedus Gabriel Parish (located in D.C.) of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in the Diaspora.  The parent church's Holy Synod had ruled that the president of the local church and the head of the Parish Administrative Council should surrender all keys and property of the Parish to the Archbishop of the Washington Metropolitan area.  They refused to do so, and the Archbishop sued seeking an injunction requiring them to comply with the Holy Synod's ruling.  The DC court held that the true dispute was over whether a clause in Kedus Gabriel's bylaws giving the  Holy Synod responsibility for the congregation's "spiritual and religious matters" gives the Holy Synod authority to remove Kedus Gabriel’s elected officers here.  Deciding whether the Holy Synod's decision here involved spiritual or religious matters would involve the court in an impermissible inquiry into religious doctrine and practice in violation of the First Amendment. The court concluded:
Informed by both parties’ summary judgment papers that the dispute here at bottom is about which clergy have the right to control Kedus Gabriel, Judge Kravitz properly denied relief, on the ground that “the First Amendment does not permit a civil court to determine the religious leader of a religious institution[.]”