INTRAMURAL ECCLESIASTICAL KERFUFFLES

It seems astonishing that a church member would, to enforce a claimed religious view of the member, litigate with the member’s own church.  But, that was what the Court called an Intramural Ecclesiastical Kerfuffle in Flynn v Estevez, Slip Op. (FL. App. 1st Dist. 2017).  The Plaintiff was the parent of a child headed to parochial elementary school and sued when the church school would not admit his child without a vaccination.  The Plaintiff sought an injunction to compel the church school to admit the unvaccinated child on the grounds the Plaintiff, as parent, had a right guaranteed by statute to omit vaccinations on religious grounds.  The church school, a church school of the very denomination of which the Plaintiff was a member, considered the requirement of vaccinations compliance with the “public good” and part of the church’s doctrine.

The Court held that the statutory parental right had to give way to the church’s constitutional rights which we by short hand refer to as the Ecclesiastical Abstention Doctrine.  Also, because the dispute was an “intramural ecclesiastical kerfuffle,” i.e., the religious view asserted by the Plaintiff was contrary to the religious view of his own church was, according to the Court, a “devotee’s tail wagging the corpus of church leadership.”  Because it would require discernment of religious doctrine to compare the beliefs of the Plaintiff to the defendant church school to chose between them, under Florida law the Court determined it did not have jurisdiction of the dispute and affirmed dismissal.  The Court went to on to hold, at least in dicta, that the operation of the church school made church school operations as religious as church administration.

While Florida views the Ecclesiastical Abstention Doctrine as a limitation on jurisdiction of the court, as learned a couple of days ago in the article The Finger in the Dike, Michigan does not.  The case reviewed in “Finger” was also a church school case.

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