Religious freedom is a fundamental tenet of our jurisprudence.1 The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which is binding on the states through the Fourteenth Amendment, provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”2 The Establishment Clause “is a prohibition of government sponsorship of religion which requires that government neither aid nor formally establish a religion.”3 Said prohibition exists because there is a substantial danger that the government will become entangled in essentially religious controversies or intervene on behalf of groups espousing particular doctrines or beliefs.4

Although civil disputes involving religious parties may be adjudicated if neutral principles of secular law are exclusively involved, the Establishment Clause absolutely prohibits civil courts from deciding actions in which the nature of the issues raised are in any way religious.5 As the New York Court of Appeals has explained:

The United States Constitution protects the right of individuals to believe what they cannot prove. They may not be put to the proof of their religious doctrines or beliefs…If these doctrines are subject to trial before a jury charged with finding their truth or falsity, then the same can be done with the religious beliefs of any sect. When the triers of fact undertake that task, they enter a forbidden domain…[C]ivil courts are forbidden from interfering in or determining religious disputes. Such rulings violate the First Amendment because they simultaneously establish one religious belief as correct … while interfering with the free exercise of the opposing faction’s beliefs.6

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]