Balancing Cultural Integrity Against Individual Liberty: Civil Court Review of Ecclesiastical Judgments

This Note considers the standard of deference that civil courts should apply in cases where a religious judicatory already has decided an issue which subsequently is submitted for civil court resolution. It proposes a framework designed to protect the rights of religious groups to preserve their cultural integrity while also protecting individuals’ personal liberty and the interests of the secular state. The analysis is necessarily framed by the opposing demands of the First Amendment’s religion clauses. The Free Exercise Clause prohibits civil courts from intruding into religious societies’ internal affairs, and the Establishment Clause limits religious authority over secular issues. To meet the requirements of both religion clauses, civil courts must refuse to rule on wholly internal, wholly religious issues, but must defend parties’ secular rights.