Friday, January 20, 2017

Court Orders Further Hearing In Suit By Church Member Challenging His Expulsion

In Campbell v. Shiloh Baptist Church, 2016 Conn. Super. LEXIS 3277 (CT Super. Ct., Dec. 1, 2016), plaintiff Thedress Campbell claims that Shiloh Baptist Church and its pastor removed him from the membership list and barred him from the church without following the church's bylaws.  Campbell had questioned expenditures by the pastor and had reported asbestos in the church to state authorities.  The Connecticut trial court held in part:
Although the Connecticut Supreme Court has articulated a preference for the application of the neutral principles approach in property disputes, it has not had occasion to articulate whether such an approach is to be followed in the resolution of other types of internal church conflicts. This court believes that it would....
... [T]he Constitution and Bylaws of the Church vests the authority for the expulsion or dismissal of members in the membership or congregation of the Church.... [T]he court is not deprived by the first amendment of jurisdiction to resolve whether the plaintiff was in fact expelled from the Church because this decision is not so intertwined with religious principles that it can make this determination without interfering with a legitimate claim to the free exercise of religion. Such an issue may be resolved in the present case by the application of neutral principles of law, here those of the secular laws of corporations. The evidence presented to the court did not address whether the voice of the Church was given expression by vote of its membership.... [T]herefore the court orders that the hearing be continued for the limited purpose of determining whether the Church had actually spoken, or whether the ... letter [informing him of his dismissal] was an ultra vires act of Pastor Porter and Deacon Jones.