The Magistrate Judge agrees that the Free Exercise Clause requires this Court to abstain from judging the legitimacy of any Living Word decision about who is or can be a member or a clergyperson of their church or about whether it is proper to remove a person from either position on the basis of church moral judgment of that person’s behavior. If this were a case about those issues or indeed about interpreting church doctrine in any way, we would be required to abstain. But the Free Exercise Clause does not shield church people from any secular court consideration of what happens in church meetings just because of where it happened. If a church meeting is used as a place to plan to commit torts involving third parties – which is what is alleged here regarding Living Word interference with Barrow’s book deals – ecclesiastical abstention will not shield the occurrences in the meeting from secular court consideration.
Wednesday, July 27, 2016
Church Meeting Not Totally Immune From Judicial Examination
In Barrow v. Living Word Church, (SD OH, July 25, 2016), an Ohio federal magistrate judge refused to apply the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine to dismiss a suit by a former volunteer pastor who was removed from his position and from church membership, saying in part: