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Legal Memorandum: Examination of Religious Issues

Issue: Whether religious issues should be ruled upon in a court of law.

Area of Law: Constitutional Law, Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Religious issues; Ecclesiastical polity
Jurisdiction: New Jersey
Cited Cases: None
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 02/01/2006

       When a dispute requires an examination of religious issues, the First Amendment mandates that secular courts abstain from the matter and defer to church authority.  “A longstanding principle of first amendment jurisprudence forbids civil courts from deciding issues of religious doctrine and ecclesiastical polity.”  Elmora Hebrew Ctr., Inc. v. Fishman, 125 N.J. 404, 413, 593 A.2d 725, 729 (1991).  Accordingly, a court’s decision may not unduly burden religious exercise or infringe upon the parties’ religious rights and obligations.  See Aflalo v. Aflalo, 295 N.J. Super. 527, 533, 685 A.2d 523, 526 (Ch. Div. 1996) (The First Amendment applies as much to judicial decisions as it does to legislative acts.).  “To pass constitutional muster, [the court’s decision] must have both a secular purpose and a secular effect.”  Id. at 534, 685 A.2d at 526. 

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