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OTTAWA -- The Supreme Court of Canada says a Jehovah's Witness who was expelled from his Calgary congregation cannot take his case to a judge. In a decision today, the high court says the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench has no jurisdiction to review the congregation's decision to shun Randy Wall over alleged drunkenness and verbal abuse. Several religious organizations took an active interest in the case, given questions about the degree to which the courts can review such decisions by faith-based bodies. Wall, an independent realtor, was summoned in 2014 to appear before the judicial committee of the Highwood Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses, a four-person panel of elders. He admitted to two episodes of drunkenness and, on one of those occasions, verbally abusing his wife -- wrongdoing he attributed to family stress over the earlier expulsion of his 15-year old daughter from the congregation. The judicial committee told Wall that he, too, would be expelled because he was not sufficiently repentant.
Guest posted a topic in Jehovah’s Witnesses's TopicsThe Supreme Court of Canada Thursday heard arguments in a fight over a church’s “shunning” practice, and said it would release a ruling later, but the congregation involved and several other groups argued that the justices had no right to even take part in the fight. The fight is between Randy Wall, a real estate agent, and the Highwood congregation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization in Calgary. Wall was expelled from the congregation for getting drunk and not be properly repentant, court records said. He pursued a church appeals process, unsuccessfully, then went to court because he said the church’s “shunning,” that is, practice of not associating with him in any way, hurt his business. He explained his two occasions of drunkenness related to “the previous expulsion by the congregation of his 15-year-old daughter.” A lower court opinion explained, “Even though the daughter was a dependent child living at home, it was a mandatory church edict that the entire family shun aspects of their relationship with her. The respondent said the edicts of the church pressured the family to evict their daughter from the family home. This led to … much distress in the family.” The “much distress” eventually resulted in his drunkenness, Wall said. See the WND Superstore’s collection of Bibles, including the stunning 1599 Geneva Bible. Wall submitted to the court arguments that about half his client base, members of various Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations, then refused to conduct business with him. He alleged the “disfellowship had an economic impact on the respondent.” During high court arguments Thursday, the congregation asked the justices to say that congregations are immune to such claims in the judicial system. The lower courts had ruled that the courts could play a role in determining if, and when, such circumstances rise to the level of violating civil rights or injuring a “disfellowshipped” party. The rulings from the Court of Queen’s Bench and the Alberta Court of Appeals said Wall’s case was subject to secular court jurisdiction. A multitude of religious and political organizations joined with the congregation in arguing that the Canada’s courts should not be involved. The Justice Center for Constitutional Freedoms said in a filing, “The wish or desire of one person to associate with an unwilling person (or an unwilling group) is not a legal right of any kind. For a court, or the government, to support such a ‘right’ violates the right of self-determination of the unwilling parties.” Previous case law has confirmed the ability of religious or private voluntary groups to govern themselves and dictate who can be a member. But previously rulings also reveal there is room for the court system to intervene when the question is one of property or civil rights. The Association for Reformed Political Action, described the case as having “profound implications for the separation of church and state.” Its position is that the court should keep hands off the argument. “Secular judges have no authority and no expertise to review a church membership decision,” said a statement from Andre Schutten, a spokesman for the group. “Church discipline is a spiritual matter falling within spiritual jurisdiction, not a legal matter falling within the courts’ civil jurisdiction. The courts should not interfere.” John Sikkema, staff lawyer for ARPA, said, “The issue in this appeal is jurisdiction. A state actor, including a court, must never go beyond its jurisdiction. The Supreme Court must consider what kind of authority the courts can or cannot legitimately claim. We argue that the civil government and churches each have limited and distinct spheres of authority. This basic distinction between civil and spiritual jurisdiction is a source of freedom and religious pluralism and a guard against civic totalism.” He continued, “Should the judiciary have the authority to decide who gets to become or remain a church member? Does the judiciary have the authority to decide who does or does not get to participate in the sacraments? Church discipline is a spiritual matter falling within spiritual jurisdiction, not a legal matter falling within the courts’ civil jurisdiction. The courts should not interfere. Here we need separation of church and state.” The Alberta Court of Appeal, however, suggested the fight was about more than ecclesiastical rules. “Because Jehovah’s Witnesses shun disfellowshipped members, his wife, other children and other Jehovah’s Witnesses were compelled to shun him,” that lower court decision said. “The respondent asked the appeal committee to consider the mental and emotional distress he and his family were under as a result of his duaghter’s disfellowship.” The church committee concluded he was “not sufficiently repentant.” The ruling said “the only basis for establishing jurisdiction over a decision of the church is when the complaint involves property and civil rights,” and that is what Wall alleged. “Accordingly, a court has jurisdiction to review the decision of a religious organization when a breach of the rules of natural justice is alleged.”
Canada’s top court has agreed to wade in on the question of whether private organizations, such as churches, can have their decisions reviewed by the justice system. At issue is whether a Calgary man, expelled from a local Jehovah’s Witness congregation, can appeal that decision to a court. Calgary Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Earl Wilson said he could and the Alberta Court of Appeal, in a 2-1 decision, agreed. On Thursday, the Supreme Court granted leave to appeal that ruling to the Highwood Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. That decision is being applauded by the Canadian Constitution Foundation, which says the lower court rulings could open up judicial appeals to all sorts of private organizations, from service clubs to amateur sports clubs to churches. “Not only would this directly violate the Charter rights to freedom of association and religion, it would impose cumbersome and costly new burdens on voluntary organizations,” foundation executive director Howard Anglin said in a news release. The Calgary man, whom Postmedia is not naming, was expelled from the Jehovah’s Witnesses church in April, 2014, for not being repentant enough for getting drunk twice. He appealed his expulsion to the church’s appeal branch, but the decision was upheld. The man said he got drunk on two occasions, including once where he verbally abused his wife. He explained his drinking was related to pressures on the family relating to the earlier expulsion of their 15-year-old daughter and the subsequent shunning they were required to give her. The (father) said the edicts of the church pressured the family to evict their daughter from the family home,” the Court of Appeal said in its decision last September upholding Wilson’s ruling. “This led to further serious consequences, and much distress in the family.” No date has been set for the Supreme Court to hear the case.