Lawyers representing McLean Bible Church members say that ‘Religious entities…are not above the law’ in lawsuit against David Platt and McLean Bible Church.
A hearing on a Motion to Dismiss a case against McLean Bible Church will take place Friday in a Fairfax County, Virginia court. This case involves members seeking to hold McLean Bible Church to its constitutional ban on being a member of a denomination. The case claims that McLean Bible Church in violation of this ban gave significant donations to and affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).
The case was filed in December and seeks a full financial accounting. The church’s legal response claimed the state court cannot enforce the constitutional ban and sought a dismissal of the case. The crux of the church’s argument claimed that the church’s clear language banning its membership in a denomination was a “religious question” and thus the court must not step in and force compliance.
The legal response from lawyers was blistering.
According to the filing representing the dissident members, “Religious entities, especially those of non-hierarchical bodies, are not above the law. Whether the court has subject matter jurisdiction over a religious body turns on whether the subject dispute can be adjudicated using ‘neutral (or secular) principles’ without depending ‘upon inquiry into questions of faith of doctrine.’…In other words, if subject disputes ‘can be decided without reference to questions of faith and doctrine, there is no constitutional prohibition against their resolution by the civil courts.”
This point is important. If the church constitution cannot be enforced then it creates a special privilege for religious non-profits in Virginia. It would pave the way for a religious non-profit to say one thing in their constitution and then do the exact opposite in practice because they would in fact be above the law.
The lawyers for plaintiffs argued that this case can easily be resolved by the court using neutral principles. They argue, “The Court can determine affiliation without addressing questions of faith and doctrine, much as it can find a couple to be legally married by a pastor without examining the theological basis of that union.”
You can read the entire legal filing embedded at the end of this post.
This is the second of two lawsuits filed against McLean Bible Church. The first lawsuit claiming that David Platt and elders rigged elections at the church is now before the Virginia Court of Appeals. That case was heard in February in Fredericksburg. There is no timeline on when a verdict might be reached by the court panel.