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In Doe v. First Presbyterian Church U.S.A. of Tulsa, (OK Sup. Ct., Dec. 19, 2017), the Oklahoma Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, withdrew its Feb. 2017 decision (see prior posting) dismissing on church autonomy grounds a suit challenging a church’s publicizing of plaintiff’s baptism, and replaced it with a majority opinion reversing the trial court’s dismissal of the suit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. At issue are tort and breach of contract claims against a Presbyterian congregation.  Plaintiff is a Syrian, Muslim refugee who became interested in converting to Christianity and agreed to be baptized only after it was agreed that his conversion would be kept private.  However Presbyterian Church doctrine requires that information about those baptized be made public.  The fact of plaintiff’s baptism was published on the Internet, leading to plaintiff’s kidnapping and torture by Islamic extremists when he returned to Syria for a visit. The majority held:All parties agree Doe simply asked for baptism, but never to become a member subject to the Appellees’ ecclesiastical hierarchy. Without this consent, Doe’s religious freedom to not subject himself to the Appellees’ judicature must be respected and honored under the longstanding and clear constitutional decisions from our Court and the Supreme Court of the United States. What Doe consented to and what the FPC communicated to Doe must be determined as a foundational inquiry regarding Doe’s claims.It was error for the district court to conclude that it had no subject matter jurisdiction to hear Doe’s claims on the basis of ecclesiastical jurisdiction. The record below is replete with contested issues of fact which must be resolved by the trier of fact in an adversarial hearing below. This matter is hereby remanded back to the trial court for proceedings consistent with this decision.Chief Justice Combs dissenting opinion argued that the majority wrongly conflated the church autonomy and ministerial exception doctrines in holding that the church autonomy defense is not jurisdictional. He went on to argue that plaintiff’s non-membership in the church does not preclude application of the church autonomy doctrine. News OK reports on the decision. [Thanks to Scott Mange for the lead.]

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