Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Church Autonomy Leads To Dismissal of Damage Claim For Disfellowshipping

In Anderson v. Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, (TN App., Jan. 19, 2007), a Tennessee state appellate court dismissed a suit brought by two former members of the Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses seeking $20 million in damages because of their expulsion from the organization and related injuries. They asserted various claims growing out of their disfellowshipping and shunning after they went public with charges about the church's handling of child sexual abuse allegations. The court held that plaintiffs' claims should have been dismissed because they are barred by the First Amendment's protection of purely religious matters from interference by secular courts. The court rejected plaintiffs' claims that the religious reasons given by the church were merely pretexts-- saying that courts are precluded from making that sort of inquiry. The court also rejected plaintiffs' defamation claims. The Associated Press reported on the decision yesterday.