Tuesday, June 08, 2021

Utah Supreme Court: Lemon Test Is No Longer Controlling

In Williams v. Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses, Roy, Utah, (UT Sup. Ct., June 3, 2021), the Utah Supreme Court vacated the trial and appellate courts' dismissal of a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress against the Elders of a Jehovah's Witnesses church. At issue was the manner in which the Elders conducted an investigation of whether a 14-year old girl who was raped by a congregant was herself guilty of the sin of "porneia". The state Supreme Court said in part:

Although the conclusion reached by the district court and the court of appeals may ultimately prove to be the correct one, we note that in reaching that conclusion both courts relied on the excessive entanglement test established in Lemon. But ... Lemon has been overtaken by more recent Supreme Court cases.  Because the district court applied the excessive entanglement test from Lemon instead of the approach followed in these more recent cases, we vacate the district court‘s decision and remand for any additional proceedings necessary to adequately conduct the Supreme Court‘s current approach to the Establishment Clause.

... [T]he district court should focus on the particular issue at hand and look to history for guidance as to the correct application of the Establishment Clause.... [T]he court should identify ―an overarching set of principles and explain how those principles should be applied in this case.

Ogden Standard-Examiner reports on the decision. [Thanks to James Phillips for the lead.]