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Faith Can’t Abrogate a Contract

Faith Can’t Abrogate a Contract

The Church of Scientology in Los Angeles.


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The California Court of Charm has opened a new entrance in the authorized war more than spiritual exemptions. In Bixler v. Church of Scientology, the court docket ruled in favor of previous associates of the church who allege that they had been raped by a church agent right before leaving the faith. It held that they aren’t sure by an arbitration contract, a situation of church membership, in which they agreed that any claims in opposition to the church have to be submitted to Scientology arbitration tribunals.

“Scientology’s composed arbitration agreements are not enforceable in opposition to customers who have remaining the faith, with respect to promises for subsequent non-spiritual, tortious acts,” the judges wrote. “To maintain usually would bind associates irrevocably to a faith they have the constitutional correct to depart.”

The petitioners are sympathetic, and there may possibly be reasons not to implement the settlement, this sort of as unfairness in the Scientology tribunals or bias of the arbitrators. But the courtroom created no point out of these factual thoughts, holding simply that the petitioners’ spiritual freedom allowed them to abrogate the agreement. Which is inconsistent with both equally the Constitution and federal regulation, and it has troubling implications.

The Federal Arbitration Act of 1925 requires states to implement arbitration contracts as extensive as they are appropriate less than the legislation of the state. It can make no exception for religious courts or religious law—and if it did, it would be unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Courtroom has held regularly that spiritual and secular institutions ought to be handled the very same below the regulation. Authorized rights that implement generally to all cannot be denied to spiritual people or corporations.

In Great News Club v. Milford Central School (2001), the court docket struck down a plan that rented out public-school lecture rooms to personal businesses but excluded spiritual institutions. The justices used this principle to point out grant applications in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer (2017) and to a scholarship method for private education and learning in Espinoza v. Montana Division of Revenue (2020).

People today have the lawful correct to make agreements that bind them in methods that the regulation just cannot compel—such as to follow Jewish legislation, French law or Lloyd’s of London’s procedures. The regulation ought to uphold their contractual agreement, even however no one really should ever be pressured to make these kinds of an agreement.

A good way to feel about the difficulty might be to invert it. What if a person signed a secular settlement to arbitrate under German law and now has joined a religion that prohibits that? Or picture a baker who contracted to bake a cake for a marriage ceremony, then underwent a religious conversion and now finds the wedding ceremony morally objectionable. We would not make it possible for anyone to void deal on such a foundation. To do so would open up contracts to a subjective religion-take a look at that even further frays the neutrality of legislation, in what should to be an primarily neutral spot of regulation.

The time to look at one’s conscience or religion is right before signing a contract. The freedom to change one’s religion (or to have no religion) is fundamental, but so is the liberty of agreement, which suggests nothing except it involves an obligation to satisfy one’s contractual obligations.

Mr. Broyde is a regulation professor at Emory University and author of “Sharia Tribunals, Rabbinical Courts, and Christian Panels: Spiritual Arbitration in America and the West.”

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Appeared in the January 26, 2022, print edition.