State appellate courts grapple with issue in four separate recent cases
When does a civil court have jurisdiction to resolve an internal church dispute? The facile answer is that courts have jurisdiction in cases that can be decided on “neutral principles of law” and do not have jurisdiction in cases that would entangle the court in ecclesiastical matters involving religious doctrine. The trick, of course, is deciding where the line should be drawn. Four state appellate courts have recently been forced to draw the line in separate cases. In two cases, the courts accepted jurisdiction and in two they did not. But two of the appellate decisions reversed contrary decisions of a trial court.