Sunday, January 21, 2007

Watson v. Jones: "The Fountainhead"

For the present day conflict the irony is rich, given that the case revolved around "a property dispute between the pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions of a divided Presbyterian congregation in postbellum Kentucky." For it involves whether it is biblical to exclude.

From the Religious Liberty Archive:
The Watson Court held that disputes in hierarchical churches should be decided by a rule of judicial deference to the ecclesiastical hierarchy:

[W]henever the questions of discipline, or of faith, or ecclesiastical rule, custom or law have been decided by the highest of these church judicatories to which the matter has been carried, the legal tribunals must accept such decisions as final and as binding on them, in their application to the case before them.
. . .
The Watson court rightly predicted that its decision would have "far reaching influence" and concluded that it had identified a "matter over which the civil courts exercise no jurisdiction."
. . .
the court recognized that the rule of judicial deference was appropriate because church members had impliedly consented to their respective church disciplines:

All who unite themselves to such a body do so with an implied consent to this government, and are bound to submit to it. But it would be a vain consent and would lead to the total subversion of such religious bodies, if anyone aggrieved by one of their decisions could appeal to the secular courts and have them reversed.
. . .
the Supreme Court later constitutionalized Watson's principles. Kedroff, 344 U.S. at 116 (1952).

[Watson] "radiates . . . a spirit of freedom for religious organizations, an independence from secular control or manipulation, in short, power to decide for themselves, free from state interference, matters of church government as well as those of faith and doctrine.

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