Texas Churches At Center Of Controversy

(CBS 11 News) NORTH TEXAS Two North Texas churches are at the center of a controversy. It involves the right to expose alleged extra-marital affairs. One of the cases heads to the Texas Supreme Court next week and the battle could have national impact.

Both churches argue it comes down to the separation of church and state. They argue that the state should stay out their business, but the plaintiff’s say church doctrine is not only violating their rights, it’s violating the law.

Two separate cases involving two North Texas churches could result in landmark rulings.

“The courts have no jurisdiction of these internal church disputes,” said Kelly Shackelford, Liberty Legal Institute.

Shackelford will give oral arguments on behalf of the pastors at Crossland Community Bible Church in Fort Worth and Watermark Community Church in Dallas.

Shackelford says, “We have doctrine. We really take it seriously. When people step out of line, we’re going to do everything we can to pull them back in, but we’re not going to compromise our standards.”

The cases focus on a church’s right to publicly reveal a member’s personal sins. In both law suits the members allegedly engaged in extra-marital affairs.

In the Crossland case, the pastor sent letters to the congregation informing fellow members of the affair. In the Watermark case, the letters have not gone out, pending the court’s ruling.

Both pastors say sending letters is a form of discipline. They argue that when people join they are well aware of church doctrine.

“But in these cases we’ve got a lot more than that. We’ve actually got signed statements by the individuals stating that they are giving consent and agreeing to the specific doctrine,” Shackelford said.

Dallas attorney Dan Boyd, who is not involved in either case, says church doctrine is not a valid argument if it violates the law.

“You can put it into your church bylaws that we’re going to whip people if they do a certain sin. If you claim that’s free exercise of religion, that doesn’t work in our courts,” Boyd says. “Invasion of privacy is a well-known tort in Texas and what they’re arguing here is that under the guise of free exercise of religion, they can go out and commit a tort that other people can’t do without being sued.”

In both cases the members in question left their respective churches before the letters were printed. Boyd says that alone should free them of church bylaws.

“If you join a particular club everybody in that club agrees to certain things, but if you quit the club, that’s no longer in effect,” Boyd said.

The Crossland case of Fort Worth goes before the Texas Supreme Court next Tuesday. The Watermark case of Dallas will be heard by the Dallas Court of Appeals the following day.

(CBS 11 News)

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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday September 20, 2006.
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