Okay, here's the skinny:
was decided in 1989 by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Here's a link
to the text of that decision.
involved claims for the torts of "outrage" and "invasion of privacy" That is, the First Amendment did not protect the speech of the church in that case, thus letting Guinn sue under these theories.
3. The behavior of the church elders in Guinn
would pretty much never be replicated in an LDS context (since disciplinary hearings are not publicized, and are not conducted in an "outrageous" manner). So those tort theories would not be available. I am hard-pressed to think of a tort theory which would be available where a person filed suit over an LDS disciplinary hearing.
has limited applicability, as it is only precedent in Oklahoma and it applied to a set of facts which, as noted above, would probably not be replicated in the LDS context. Moreover, a subsequent decision, also from the Supreme Court of Oklahoma, addresses the same general issue but involving claims against the LDS Church
. This case, Hadnot v. Shaw
, is therefore substantially more "on point" that Guinn
. Here is a link
to the Hadnot
5. In Hadnot
, the Oklahoma Supreme Court specifically addressed whether the Guinn
case applied to the following facts:
A. The plaintiffs were sisters and were formerly members of the LDS Church in Chickasha, Oklahoma.
B. The defendants were the Church, the bishop and his counselors.
C. Parishioners were each notified of and asked to be present at a Church disciplinary hearing called to determine their membership status. Neither attended. Following the hearing both parishioners received letters from the Church. The letter addressed to parishioner Hadnot was placed in her mailbox. This letter, which was opened and read by her husband, informed parishioner that the Church court determined her membership should be terminated because of her alleged fornication. The other sister was personally handed a letter also signed by a lay leader, which informed her of the Church court's decision to remove her from membership.
D. The sisters filed suit, apparently for "harm from wilful or grossly negligent delivery of the expulsion letters to parishioners" based on "(a) libel, (b) intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress and © invasion of privacy (public disclosure of private facts, intrusion upon seclusion, and placing parishioners in a false light before the public)"; and "harm from communicating the letters' contents to the public" based on "(a) slander, (b) intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress and © invasion of privacy (public disclosure of private facts, intrusion upon seclusion, and placing parishioners in a false light before the public)."
E. Summary judgment was granted in favor of the defendants.
F. One significant factual difference is that the Church in Guinn believed that a church member did not have the right to dissociate from it ("According to their beliefs, a member remains a part of the congregation for life. Like those who are born into a family, they may leave but they can never really sever the familial bond.). This is a radical, even dispositive, distinction between the situation in Guinn compared to the beliefs and practices of the LDS Church.
6. The Oklahoma Supreme Court specifically found that "the trial court correctly applied Guinn
." Here are the specific excerpts of the decision, with commentary from yours truly:"The church's jurisdiction exists as a result of the mutual agreement between that body and its member," and "(t)hat relationship may be severed freely by a member's positive act at any time."
I agree with this principle wholeheartedly."Until it is so terminated, the church has authority to prescribe and follow disciplinary ordinances without fear of interference by the state."
I agree with this principle wholeheartedly."The First Amendment will protect and shield the religious body from liability for the activities carried on pursuant to the exercise of church discipline. Within the context of ecclesiastical discipline, churches enjoy an absolute privilege from scrutiny by the secular authority."
I agree with this finding, and am grateful for it.
Now here is where it gets interesting:"The church privilege extends in this case to activities or communications which occurred after excommunication if these may be termed as mere implementation of previously pronounced ecclesiastical sanction which was valid when exercised — i.e., that it was declared when Church jurisdiction subsisted."
In other words, if the LDS Church commences disciplinary proceedings, its right to continue those proceedings, and its right to enjoy the constitutional protections associated described above, then the individual cannot short circuit those proceedings by resigning."Within the concept of protected implementation are not only the religious disciplinary proceeding's merits and procedure but also its end product — the expulsion sanction."
In other words, the Church has the right to get to the "end product" of a disciplinary proceeding, and to do so without surrendering its constitutional protections."While excommunication would put an end to jurisdiction over any further offense, it does not abrogate the consequences flowing from the previously announced Church judicature."
Well said, Okies, well said."Parishioners admit that at no time during or after the proceedings at issue did they withdraw their Church membership. Thus the Church retained full subject matter and personal jurisdiction to adjudicate the two disciplinary cases against the parishioners. Upon excommunication, and while a parishioner remains under the church discipline, the ecclesiastical tribunal impliedly relinquishes the power of judicature over the parishioner for any other or future conduct, yet retains cognizance over the previously adjudicated matter for the purpose of implementing any extent ecclesiastical sanction."
I wish I could write like this.
The Court then shifts gears a bit:"Sovereign only within her own domain, the church has no power over those who live outside of the spiritual community. The church may not be forced to tolerate as a member one whom it feels obliged to expel from its flock. On the other hand, no citizen of the state may be compelled to remain in a church which his conscience impels him to leave."
I quite agree with this reasoning."The Free Exercise Clause prohibits civil courts from inquiring into any phase of ecclesiastical decisionmaking — its merits as well as procedure."
This is generally referred to as the "Ecclesiastical Abstention" doctrine."In sum, if a matter lies within ecclesiastical cognizance, the church stands protected from any interference by the Free Exercise Clause. If it oversteps proper bounds, it will run afoul of the Establishment Clause insofar as its use of the state power may be in furtherance of a religious cause. As stated in Prince v. Commonwealth, '... religious activities which concern only members of the faith are and ought to be free — as nearly absolutely free as anything can be.'"
Just so."At the point when the church-member relationship is severed through an affirmative act either of a parishioner's withdrawal or of excommunication by the ecclesiastical body, a different situation arises. In the event of withdrawal or of post-excommunication activity unrelated to the church's efforts at effectuation of valid judicature, the absolute privilege from tort liability no longer attaches."
Pretty clear, I think."Any action at this point, if it is to be protected, must be justified by others means. Under these circumstances conditional privileges may be applicable. The church may take such steps as are reasonable to protect itself and to complete the process occasioned by the withdrawal or other termination of the consensual relationship with a member."
rather clearly establishes what would happen if Guinn
is applied in an LDS context. That is, the Church and its SOP for disciplinary proceedings would be in safe waters.