Are the courts overstepping boundaries when it comes to church affairs? : LUSENET : A.M.E. Today Discussion : One Thread

The ame herald has a partnership agreement to share news with each other. I wanted to share this news item with you. It is from the Unite Methodist news service.

Iowa's top court allows lawsuit against church to continue

June 19, 2003 News media contact: Kathy Gilbert·(615)742-5470·Nashville, Tenn. 10-71B{326}

DES MOINES, Iowa (UMNS) - A couple who filed a defamation lawsuit in 1999 against the United Methodist Iowa Annual Conference and a local church will now have a chance to bring their suit to trial because of a ruling by the state Supreme Court.

The suit revolves around a letter written by then-District Superintendent Jerrold Swinton, in which he warned "the spirit of Satan" was at work in Shell Rock (Iowa) United Methodist Church.

The letter was prompted after Swinton visited the church, and Jane Kliebenstein, then a member of the church, made comments to him about the church pastor.

In the letter, Swinton wrote: "Folks, when is enough, enough? When will you stop the blaming, negative and unhappy persons among you from tearing down the spirit of Jesus Christ among you?" The letter also called on church members to acknowledge that "the spirit of Satan" was at work in the church.

Even though the letter did not specifically mention her, Jane and her husband, Glen Kliebenstein, claimed the letter falsely attacked her "integrity and moral character," causing damage to her reputation in the community.

Swinton's letter went on to advise the church's staff-parish committee to call a meeting to propose that Jane Kliebenstein be stripped of church offices.

A lower court had thrown out the case, arguing that the phrase "spirit of Satan" was a "purely ecclesiastical term, deriving its meaning from religious dogma" and thereby preventing the court from adjudicating the phrase's impact in the context of a civil suit for defamation. The Kliebensteins appeal the ruling to the Iowa Supreme Court.

The higher court agreed that judges could not interfere with matters of faith and internal church discipline, but the circulation of Swinton's letter outside the congregation "weakens the shield." The court also ruled that although the phrase has religious roots, it carries an "unflattering secular meaning."

The Iowa Annual Conference released the following statement about the latest court decision: "We are disappointed in the decision and believe it to be an unfortunate erosion of First Amendment rights of a religious organization. We believe that the mere fact that this notice of a church meeting was accidentally sent to non-church members should not constitute a waver of constitutional rights. We are seeking review by the U.S. Supreme Court." # # #

-- Anonymous, June 19, 2003


The Church has enjoyed the protection of the First Amendment for a very long time.

However, in this millennium, they have used the First Amendment to hide acts (discrimination, slander, breach of contract, pedophilia, for example) that would have landed secular people and companies in jail.

The church cannot be allowed to commit sinful, unlawful, or illegal acts, and then hide behind the law.

The Catholic Church has found out what happens when you pretend to be pious, but are not. The Baptist Church knows. So does the United Methodist Church. The Jehovah Witnesses are about to find out, and at current pace, we are not far behind.

I am all for piercing the "first amendment wall", especially when neutral law can be applied to show that sinful, unlawful, or illegal acts are being committed. If the loss of millions of dollars of revenue and prison time is what it taks to wake up those in charge of God's people, and clean house, so be it.

-- Anonymous, June 20, 2003

I am deeply concerned about the future of religious freedom and 1st Amendment protections. The current political endorsements spearheaded by many churches for candidates (both Dems & GOP) is NOT in the best interest of the church. I do not need my spiritual leaders attempting to persuade me about the beneficial implications of the Democratic Party. It's amazing how many clergy are willing to risk having their tax-exempt status revoked simply because they insist on crossing the forbidden path of church-state relations. QED

-- Anonymous, June 20, 2003

I agree with Rev. Harper. Too often the Church skirts being accountable for questionable activities due to a breakdown in judical protocols within the church. Being a Christian, I am fully aware of forgiveness and second chances. However, I also believe that the God I serve is a God of order. Disobedience, chaos, and strife are not God's way. There is forgiveness, but there also is accountability too. God forgives us when we fall short of His glory, but there are still consequences for our actions. He makes us accountable. And he trusts that we too will hold ourselves accountable. Unfortunately, the Church sometimes looses sight of this important fact, using all types of methods, pardoning/forgiving to cover up issues and situations that in some instances are absoultely outrageous and intolerable. And who suffers in the end when it all comes to light? Not just the culprit(s), but the entire Church, regardless of the denomonation. Many, such as the plantiffs, are beginning to believe that if the Church can't get it together with our own judical checks and balances, that their only recourse for Justice (I use the capital J delibertately. Any metaphysicists out there?), is through the secular courts. And the secular courts, with the going trend, are beginning to make parishioners and church leaders accountable for their follies. Hit and runs, destruction of property, slander, sexual misconduct, activites of ill repute, etc. are being exposed everyday. And the consequences for those activities are being exposed as well. It seems to me that the secular courts are saying "okay, let God take care of your forgiveness- we'll let the cell, lawsuits and disrobement due to media exposure take care of your accountabilty." If we can't get our sense of ethics together, then maybe another entity should.

-- Anonymous, June 20, 2003

Sorry, about the typo's in my initial post. It should have read that the A.M.E. Herald and the United Methodist have entered a partnership agreement to share news with one another.

This particular case bears watching for the outcome could set precedent that will impact all denominations.

Though we will not be carrying this story in the Herald this week because of space limitations, I will keep the board updated as I get more news regarding this issue.

-- Anonymous, June 20, 2003

Hello my Internet Church Family,

This scripture from "The Book" should shed some light on Christian people suing one another.

How is it that when you have something against another Christian, you "go to law" and ask a heathen court to decide matter instead of taking it to other Christians to decide which of you is right? Don't you know that some day we Christians are going to judge and govern the world? So why can't you decide even these little things among yourselves? Don't you realize that we Christians will judge and reward the very angels in heaven? So you should be able to to decide your problems down here on earth easily enough. Why then go to outside judges who are not even Christians? ICorinthians 6:1-4.

Quite frankly, there is so much chicanery in the so called " rule of law", I would advise anybody to stay out of the court system by all means .


-- Anonymous, June 23, 2003


You are perfectly right and I would not attempt to argue with the Scripture you quote. It unequivocally states the perfect and expressed will of God. However, what has happened here is what results when people grow tired of those who claim to know God and even are called to preach His Word, yet they act out of selfish motives, dishonor the people of God and dishonor God's name as well.

I could relate to you stories that would truly make you weep. Too often church official simply close their eyes to evil and turn a deaf ear to what is right. God is offended and so am I. Frankly, I am glad that people are now taking their cases to whatever authority they know will listen to them.

I, among many other, are simply tired of this abuse. Unless this changes we will soon witness more of the action these people took

The abuse and misuse of power and authority simply has to STOP and stop right now!

-- Anonymous, June 24, 2003

I agree with Christians not suing each other; however, it presupposes an important concept: Both parties are behaving like Christians. It presupposes that the Church is behaving in a Christ-like manner.

I offer you a concrete example of why laity (and ministers) need to be able to pierce the "1st Amendment Wall of Impunity":

Again I say that if churches are not willing to enforce God's law (or their own discpline), they should be subject to man's law (and lawsuits).

-- Anonymous, June 25, 2003

The US Supreme Court ruled by a 6-3 vote that sodomy laws which ban gay sex are unconstitutuional because they violate a right to privacy for consenting adults. The so-called conservative wing of the Court, Rhenquist, Scalia & Thomas voted to keep the ban in effect. Even though there is no clearly delineated "right to privacy" in the Constitution, the Texas case represents a clear victory for the gay community. Only a handful of states still have sodomy laws on the books but they are soon to be repealed given today's ruling. This ruling is extremely interesting because it effectively trumps "church law" and elevates consensual homosexual sex regardless of the morals defined by ecclessiastical authority. Suppose for instance a gay steward who is a faithful Church School attendee, choir member and tither decides to "consumate" his relation with his male partner by engaging in sexual activity strictly prohibited by the Bible & AME Doctrine & Discipline (even though currently the Discipline doesn't directly address this issue). Is the gay steward or gay clergyman bound by the regulations of the church or can he/she simply cite this court case and ignore canon law? Or, to take an alternative view, if the right to privacy among consenting adults is sacrosanct for homosexual intercourse what prevents this view being extended to heterosexual sex? Are we moving in a new direction where adultery and fornication will no longer have moral implications? The stinging dissents by Rhenquist-Scalia-Thomas firmly support the state exercising its duty as a moral arbiter. The AMEC had better be prepared to have a clear and succinct response. QED

-- Anonymous, June 26, 2003


I think we are confusing issues here. The Court has not outlawed the Separation of Church and State. It has clearly said that the State does not have the right to rule on what happens in our private lives as long as the rights of individuals have not been threatened or violated and what they have done is "consensual and agreed upon."

The state is not moral and can never be. The lines of demarcation are perfectly clear. What is Church is Church and what is State is State. The Bill of Rights makes this perfectly clear. No Conservative member of either the Church or State has the right to change the rights they guarantee.

When one joins a church one promises before God and man to be governed and abide by the laws and precepts that church hold to be sacred and dear. When this is done "Consent and Agreement" have been made. Thus, a legal contact of parties is evident. If this promise is violated or abused by any member of the church, I can see no reason why the church would not have the right to say to that person amend your ways or you no longer belong here.

Not only is this true for the church but any organization to which we belong has the right to hold its members accountable to the rules. Each has the right to say there are other organization to which you may belong. But according to what you have done, this is not the one.

This even extends to the family where we may and sometimes do ask family members to get their act together or go it alone

"But as for me and my house, We will serve the Lord."

-- Anonymous, June 26, 2003

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