Friday, January 11, 2008

Marian Guinn vs Church of Christ Collinsville

The Marian Guinn case in 1984 was a key precedent for the Hancock case. The case involved a nurse who started dating Pat Sharp, the Mayor of Collinsville. Because he was divorced on unbiblical grounds the Church of Christ forbid Marian from seeing him. She continued to see him and more confrontations insured. She in confidence admitted to having a sexual relations. A church discipline case was started, Marian quit the church. The church rejected the withdrawal, excommunicated her and then advised all the churches in the neighborhood of her actions. Marion sued and the case became a major precedent.
This case presents a wealth of topics. First off, the Oklahoma court found against Marian regarding the issue of internal confidentiality. Again churches are not required to maintain confidences there is no expectation of privacy (see Penley v. Westbrook for a modern example). This is something that comes up again and again in discussions regarding church discipline so its worth commenting here, that a member that talks within a church to another member has no legal rights of confidentiality. Readers here should note that if they want to maintain their legal rights, they should not discuss things in church or in a church capacity!
Second, the court again affirmed a high bar for oversight of those actions that occurred while she was a member of the church. A church can do whatever it wants without any legal oversight unless such actions endanger peace, safety or public order.
The third point though is one many conservative churches most certainly went against the notion of church covenant. The court held that binding commitments to a church had no effect in law. Quite simply after withdrawing a church court was just another entity:
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....

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.
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.

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.

See Also

3 comments:

Areopa said...

I left some comments here:

http://www.reformedcatholicism.com/?p=1619

>>>Kevin

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