Thursday, August 10, 2017

Religious School Asserts Ecclesiastical Abstention Defense

As reported by Houston Chronicle, an Episcopal elementary school in Galveston, Texas has asserted an ecclesiastical abstention defense to a lawsuit filed by the mother of a student alleging an inadequate response by the school to bullying and racial harassment of her sixth-grade son.  Plaintiff says that 3 of her son's classmates gave her son a piece of paper folded to resemble a KKK hood, and bullied them in other ways. The school only required the students to send apology notes, and gave a one day suspension to one of the students.  The defendants' motion to dismiss (full text) in Beans v. Trinity Episcopal School, (TX Dist. Ct., filed 8/1/2017) argues:
As a religious institution, Trinity has a constitutionally-protected freedom to make decisions regarding the discipline of its students without judicial interference. The courts cannot second guess those decisions, even in the guise of purportedly "secular" causes of action arising from tort principles. Plaintiffs' claims ask the Court to intrude upon Trinity's internal affairs and governance relating to discipline, investigation, and standards of conduct—which is precisely what the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine was designed to prevent.