No Court Review of Certain Church Matters

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The ecclesiastical abstention doctrine "prevents secular courts from reviewing many types of disputes that would require an analysis of 'theological controversy, church discipline, ecclesiastical government, or the conformity of the members of the church to the standard of morals required.'" Patton v. Jones, 212 S.W.3d 541, 547--48 (Tex. App.-Austin 2006, pet. denied) (quoting Watson v. Jones, 80 U.S. 679, 733 (1872)); see Westbrook, 231 S.W.3d at 397--98; In re Godwin, 293 S.W.3d 742, 747--48 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 2009, orig. proceeding); Williams v. Gleason, 26 S.W.3d 54, 58 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2000, pet. denied). The doctrine provides that "civil courts are to accept 'as final, and as binding on them' the decisions of an ecclesiastical institution on such matters." Patton, 212 S.W.3d at 547 (quoting Watson, 80 U.S. at 728). The "ministerial exception" refers to the application of the doctrine in the employment context. Id. It provides that civil courts lack subject matter jurisdiction to decide cases concerning employment decisions by religious institutions concerning a member of the clergy or an employee in a ministerial position. Id.

The doctrine arises from the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and applies to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. See U.S. CONST. amends. I ("Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."), XIV. The Free Exercise Clause precludes, among other things, government action that burdens the free exercise of religion "by encroaching on the church's ability to manage its internal affairs." Westbrook, 231 S.W.3d at 395. "Although wrongs may exist in the ecclesiastical setting, and although the administration of the church may be inadequate to provide a remedy, the preservation of the free exercise of religion is deemed so important a principle that it overshadows the inequities that may result from its application." Williams, 26 S.W.3d at 59; see In re Godwin, 293 S.W.3d at 750 (noting that courts give "great deference to the First Amendment's freedom of religion guarantee"). To determine whether the doctrine applies, courts consider the "substance and nature" of the plaintiff's claims and the effect of a judicial resolution, and not whether wrongs may go unaddressed. See In re Godwin, 293 S.W.3d at 750; Patton, 212 S.W.3d at 548.

Torralva v. Peloquin, (Tex. App. - Corpus Christi, 2013)

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