Engel [ed: school led prayer is illegal] is supported by historical fact; many who left England and its governmentally established church for America did so in pursuit of religious freedom. The First Amendment of the United States [775 P.2d 777] Constitution was designed to preserve freedom of worship by prohibiting the establishment or endorsement of any official religion. One of the fundamental purposes of the First Amendment is to protect the people's right to worship as they choose. Implicit in the right to choose freely one's own form of worship is the right of unhindered and unimpeded withdrawal from the chosen form of worship. In Engel it was the government that, by advocating one particular form of religious worship, threatened to limit freedom of choice; here, it is the Collinsville Church of Christ that, by denying Parishioner's right to disassociate herself from a particular form of religious belief, is threatening to curtail her freedom of worship according to her choice. Unless Parishioner waived the constitutional right to withdraw her initial consent to be bound by the Church of Christ discipline and its governing Elders, her resignation was a constitutionally protected right....This bears repeating. Once a withdraw has occurred the first amendment protections don't belong to the church, rather they belong to the individual. All religious activity in the United States is consensual, a person who publically claims not to be a member of a church is legally not a member of that church and church discipline cannot continue without consent. A church attempting to discipline a person that has withdrawn can be found to be engaging in a form of harassment.
By voluntarily uniting with the church, she impliedly consented to submitting to its form of religious government, but did not thereby consent to relinquishing a right which the civil law guarantees her as its constitutionally protected value. The intentional and voluntary relinquishment of a known right required for a finding of an effective waiver was never established. On the record before us Parishioner - a sui juris person - removed herself from the Church of Christ congregation rolls the moment she communicated to the Elders that she was withdrawing from membership.
WHEN PARISHIONER WITHDREW HER MEMBERSHIP FROM THE CHURCH OF CHRIST AND THEREBY WITHDREW HER CONSENT TO PARTICIPATE IN A SPIRITUAL RELATIONSHIP IN WHICH SHE HAD IMPLICITLY AGREED TO SUBMIT TO ECCLESIASTICAL SUPERVISION, THOSE DISCIPLINARY ACTIONS THEREAFTER TAKEN BY THE ELDERS AGAINST PARISHIONER, WHICH ACTIVELY INVOLVED HER IN THE CHURCH'S WILL AND COMMAND, WERE OUTSIDE THE PURVIEW OF THE FIRST AMENDMENT [775 P.2d 778] PROTECTION AND WERE THE PROPER SUBJECT OF STATE REGULATION.
While the First Amendment requires that citizens be tolerant of religious views different from and offensive to their own, it surely does not require that those like Parishioner, who choose not to submit to the authority of any religious association, be tolerant of that group's attempts to govern them. Only those "who unite themselves" in a religious association impliedly consent to its authority over them and are "bound to submit to it." Parishioner voluntarily joined the Church of Christ and by so doing consented to submit to its tenets. When she later removed herself from membership, Parishioner withdrew her consent, depriving the Church of the power actively to monitor her spiritual life through overt disciplinary acts. No real freedom to choose religion would exist in this land if under the shield of the First Amendment religious institutions could impose their will on the unwilling and claim immunity from secular judicature for their tortious acts.
The original judgment against Church of Christ was for $390,000 which was six times the annual budget of the church. The court did reverse the damages since the original court had failed to separate which tortuous acts had before and after her withdraw.