Attorney General Alan Wilson joined a 15-state coalition led by Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron Friday in filing an amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court supporting the First Amendment right of a Virginia church to define who is a minister under its own religious doctrine. New Life in Christ Church is seeking Supreme Court review of a recent ruling by a Virginia state court that denied a tax exemption to the church’s parsonage based on the government’s interpretation of the church’s religious doctrine.
“Religious liberty is the backbone of our constitutional rights,” Attorney General Wilson said. “The courts have always upheld a religious group’s authority to decide who its ministers are but a lower court trampled on that, putting religious freedom at risk everywhere.”
In the brief, Attorney General Wilson and the States argue that the Virginia court’s decision violates the First Amendment rights of New Life in Christ Church by disregarding the church’s authority to define who is or is not a “minister” to its congregation. Historically, the U.S. Supreme Court has reserved the right to make ecclesiastical decisions and interpret religious doctrine to the faith community. As the Supreme Court has explained, “Courts are not arbiters of scriptural interpretation.”
The coalition writes, “While the Court’s decisions applying both of the Religion Clauses has waxed and waned over time, it has repeatedly reaffirmed the simple rule that courts should defer to the judgment of religious authorities when adjudicating disputes that turn on ecclesiastical questions.”
South Carolina joined the Kentucky led brief along with attorneys general in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, and Utah in filing the amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court on September 3, 2021.
You can read the amicus brief here.