Thursday, May 21, 2020

Defamation Suit Dismissed Under Ecclesiastical Entanglement Doctrine

In Lippard v. Holleman, (NC App., May 19, 2020), the North Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of a defamation suit brought by a former church pianist and vocalist against the Baptist church's pastor and its minister of music. A dispute over assignment of a vocal solo had escalated leading to plaintiff's dismissal. Plaintiff sued over various statements made in connection with her termination. The court held:
... [D]etermining the truth or falsity of Defendants’ alleged defamatory statements—where the content of those statements concerns whether Plaintiffs complied with [Diamond Hill Baptist Church's] practices—would require us to interpret or weigh ecclesiastical matters, an inquiry not permitted by the First Amendment....
We affirm the trial court’s order on the ground that all statements Plaintiffs challenge are barred by the ecclesiastical entanglement doctrine.
Chief Justice McGee concurred in part and dissented in part.  [Thanks to Will Esser via Religionlaw for the lead.]