Sunday, September 30, 2018

Kentucky Supreme Court Allows Limited Discovery In Suit Against Church

In Presbyterian Church (U.S..) v. Edwards, (KY Sup. Ct., Sept. 27, 2018), the Kentucky Supreme Court in a 4-3 decision affirmed a Court of Appeals decision limiting discovery in a defamation suit against the Presbyterian Church to that necessary to determine if the church is entitled to ecclesiastical immunity.  The issue arose out of a suit by Rev. Eric Hoey who claims that the church defamed him by releasing to Presbyterian news agencies a statement that he had been terminated for committing ethical violations. A dissent written by Justice Venters argued:
To establish his claim of defamation, Hoey must prove that the Church officials were lying when they said that his conduct violated the Church’s ethical rules for its ministers....
It is immediately apparent from the face of Hoey’s Complaint that his claim can be sustained only by second-guessing the decision of the Church’s governing body that Hoey violated the Church’s ethical policies. The only way that Hoey can show that Church officials falsely stated that he violated the Ethical Policy contained in the Book of Order is to prove that he did not violate that policy.
I respectfully submit that only the Church can make that determination and the Government, through its courts, legislature, or executive agencies, cannot supersede that decision.