Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia v. Belya

April 28, 2023

Summary of facts: The leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) internally circulated a disparaging letter about a priest and then suspended him.  The priest then sued the Church and its leaders for defamation. The Church asked the court to dismiss the suit on the basis of the ministerial exception arising from the free exercise and establishment clauses of the First Amendment. The court rejected the argument and the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the decision. The Church has asked the Supreme Court to review that holding. (This is a companion case to Faith Bible Chapel International v. Tucker.)

RFI’s position: The ministerial exception prohibits the judiciary from entangling itself in religious affairs that it is incompetent to resolve, and not just the religious entity’s right to choose its ministers free from the chilling effect of judicial regulation. Both the judiciary and the religious entity are harmed when a religious entity is dragged into the secular courts for exercising its right to select its ministers. The ministerial exception is therefore analogous to official immunity. 

Read the amicus brief here.