Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Decision

Lawyer2974 at Lawyer2974 at
Wed May 19 06:54:40 PDT 2004

Yesterday, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court  decided the United 
Church of Christs' appeal arguing issues of church autonomy under the federal and 
state constitutions.  

The Court has ordered the dismissal of all claims against all defendants for 
the constitutional subject matter jurisdiction reasons I argued, with the 
exception of defamation claims against defendant Robert Clark, a member of the 
First Congregational Church of Haverhill,  based upon his alleged statements to 
Jean Roshon, a member of another UCC congregation,  that Rev. Callahan was 
engaged in an "inappropriate relationship" with a seminarian and that Rev. 
Callahan engaged in bizarre behavior, threw a child's bicycle against a wall, and 
breached another's confidence.  This does not mean that the defamation claim 
against Mr. Clark will win; it only means that the court has jurisdiction to hear 
this claim, unlike all the other claims against Mr. Clark and the other 

The case has significance for all faiths, especially those with a 
congregational polity.

Justice Spina, writing for a unanimous Massachusetts Supreme Court, stated in 

"Today we hold that constitutional rights of religious freedom apply equally 
to congregational and hierarchical churches...."

"Today we hold that congregational as well as hierarchical churches are 
entitled to autonomy "over church disputes touching on matters of doctrine, canon 
law, polity, discipline, and ministerial relationships ... To conclude 
otherwise would violate fundamental precepts of the First Amendment and the 
Massachusetts Constituion, including art. 46, section 1, of the Amendments, guaranteeing 
free exercise of religion, and art. 11 of the Amendments, which provides: 
"[A]ll religious sects and denominations, demeaning themselves peaceably, and as 
good citizxens of the commonwealth, shall be equally under the protection of 
the law; and no subordination of any one sect or denomination to another shall 
ever be established by law."  Any language suggesting the contrary in (our 
decision in) Antioch Temple, Inc. v. Parekh ... is overruled."

"[W]e do not interpret (United States Supreme Court) cases to authorize 
secular intrusion into matters of congregational church discipline."

"In deciding that our State constitutional protection extended to Judaism as 
well as Christianity, this Court declared in Glaser v. Congregation Kehillath 
Israel, 263 Mass. 435 (1928): "These great guarantees of religious liberty and 
equality before the law of all religions are not confined to asherents of the 
Christian religion or to societies and corporations organized for the 
promotion of Christianity."..By the same toke, those "great guarantees" are not 
confined to adherents of hierarchically structured churches."

The case is Callhan v. First Congregational Church of Haverhill, SJC-09190 
May 18, 2004

Donald C. Clark, Jr.
2333 Waukegan Road
Suite 160
Bannockburn, Illinois 60015
(847)-236-0909 (fax)
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