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Recent Case Involves Bullying and Religion

April 13th, 2018


A private religious school in Texas is arguing that it is exempt from anti-discrimination laws after a student was subjected to racist bullying.

A private religious school in Texas is arguing that it is exempt from anti-discrimination laws after a student was subjected to racist bullying.

A teenager recently initiated a legal action against a religious private school in Texas after the teenager experienced bullying of a racist nature. The student claimed that the school did not make any efforts to stop the bullying, but the school claimed that its religious doctrine makes it immune from legal actions in these situations. As a result, the school’s legal counsel filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. A judge is expected to decide whether to move forward with the lawsuit in the near future. While this case is recent, it raises a set of issues that were previously raised in a long-standing legal issue regarding the practice of religious organizations in the United States. As a result, this case is worth analyzing for anyone interested in learning about the conflict between church and state in this country.

The Ecclesiastical Abstention Doctrine

Established in 1871, the Ecclesiastical Abstention Doctrine first arose in the the United States Supreme Court case of Watson v. Jones. The Court in this case found that the country’s right to entertain any religious belief and to practice any religious principle does not violate the laws of morality and property. As a result, courts in the United States since this decision have tended to defer to decisions made by religious organizations regarding employment decisions. Indeed, courts have often articulated the perspective that they refuse to exercise jurisdiction over ecclesiastical issues.

This Court ruling has created difficulties for a large number of parties that attempt to seek compensation from religious organizations. There are some cases, however, in which courts are willing to interpose jurisdiction in issues related to religious organizations. One example includes cases where church employees are terminated from their position strictly in violation of employment laws.

The Lessons Created by the Ecclesiastical Abstention Doctrine

Due to the Ecclesiastical Abstention Doctrine, religious organizations must exercise the utmost caution when drafting articles of incorporation to make sure that both the organization and its employees are protected from potential bad acts. Creating these precautions can help religious organizations gain the favor of courts in case situations regarding the termination of employees ever arise. Furthermore, if legal action must be taken, a plaintiff’s cause of action must be carefully considered to avoid raising protections created by the Ecclesiastical Abstention Doctrine.

The Goal of the Universal Life Church’s Blog

This case represents just one of the most recent struggles between church and state, which in this case is played out in the school system. Each month, the Universal Life Church’s blog aims to update readers about the most recent developments in this complicated area of the law. It is important to emphasize that while many of the laws in this area extend back to the creation of the Constitution, this recent case is just one of many that have tested how these laws should be defined in the modern age.

(image courtesy of Daniel Tseng)

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