Friday, February 24, 2017

Oklahoma Supreme Court Says Church Autonomy Shields Suit Over Publicity of Baptism

In a 5-3 decision in Doe v. First Presbyterian Church USA of Tulsa, (OK Sup. Ct., Feb. 22, 2017), the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that the church autonomy doctrine requires dismissal of a suit by a Muslim convert to Christianity challenging the church's online publicity of his baptism. Plaintiff traveled to Syria after the baptism where he allegedly was kidnapped and tortured by radical Muslims who threatened to carry out a death sentence for apostasy.  The majority framed the issue as one of whether publication of the baptism on the internet is an act rooted in religious belief so that it falls within the church's ecclesiastical jurisdiction.  The majority concluded:
The context of the online posting of Appellant's baptism is not secular. Appellant's tort claims all rest on an act that, per church doctrine, is an integral part of what the church considers to be the public nature of the sacrament. Because Appellant's tort claims arise from the performance of his baptism, this dispute is one over ecclesiastical rule, custom or law, and is not purely secular.....
Justices Gurich and Kauger disagreed, saying in part:
The present case does not involve a question of discipline, faith, or ecclesiastical rule decided by a church tribunal, nor does it involve an internal, administrative matter. It merely involves the Church's publication of Appellant's name on the internet. No judicial body in the Church rendered any decision that Appellant is now trying to relitigate in civil court, and ... the autonomy of an internal Church disciplinary process is not threatened. Moreover [this suit] ... satisfies an exception to the church autonomy doctrine [for serious threats to public safety, peace or order].
AP reports on the decision. (See prior related posting.)