as: 494 F.2d 490)
States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit
William H. SIMPSON and Mrs. Crispina Simpson, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
LAMONT CORPORATION et al., Defendants, North Mississippi
United Methodist Church etc., and Bishop Edward J. Pendergrass,
and his wife brought action for damages against conference
of church, various church officials and parishioners, local
public officials, and several community business enterprises,
claiming that his removal as pastor and subsequent eviction
of his family from church parsonage violated certain federal
civil rights and various constitutional provisions. The
United States District Court for the Northern District of
Mississippi, at Oxford, William C. Keady, Chief Judge, granted
defendant public officials' motion for summary judgment
and dismissed church defendants for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction, and plaintiffs appealed. The Court of Appeals,
Roney, Circuit Judge, held that such suit, insofar as it
concerned church defendants, was within First Amendment
bar to determination of ecclesiastical questions by civil
courts, and that defendant public officials were duty bound
to execute eviction order which was valid on its face, and
their good-faith compliance with that duty relieved them
of liability to pastor.
Federal Courts k221
court lacked jurisdiction to hear case involving fundamental
question of who would preach from pulpit of church and who
would occupy church parsonage. U.S.C.A.Const. Amends. 1,
13-15; 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 1981- 1983, 1986.
Constitutional Law k84.5(10)
congregation's determination as to who shall preach from
church pulpit is at very heart of free exercise of religion.
U.S.C.A.Const. Amend. 1.
Federal Courts k1.1
has no power to vest federal courts with jurisdiction to
settle purely ecclesiastical disputes. U.S.C.A.Const. Amend.
Constitutional Law k84.5(7.1)
on rare occasions where there exists a compelling governmental
interest in regulation of public health, safety, and general
welfare will courts venture into ecclesiastical matters.
U.S.C.A.Const. Amend. 1.
Constitutional Law k84.5(7.1)
courts are barred by First Amendment from determining ecclesiastical
questions. U.S.C.A.Const. Amend. 1.
Constitutional Law k84.5(7.1)
disputes are not limited to differences in church doctrine,
for purposes of First Amendment bar to determination of
ecclesiastical questions by civil courts. U.S.C.A.Const.
Constitutional Law k84.5(10)
between church and its pastor is an integral part of church
government, for purposes of First Amendment. U.S.C.A.Const.
Constitutional Law k84.5(10)
of Civil Rights Act provisions creating equal rights to
make and enforce contracts, equal rights to enjoyment of
property, right to be free of deprivation of federally protected
rights under color of law, right to be free of unlawful
conspiracies to interfere with federally protected rights,
and right to obtain aid from other persons to prevent the
violation of federally protected rights to relationship
between church and pastor could result in encroachment by
state into area of religious freedom in violation of First
Amendment. 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 1981-1983, 1985, 1986; U.S.C.A.Const.
Constitutional Law k84.5(10)
assertion that he was dismissed because of his views on
race and merger of segregated church organization and because
of color of his wife's skin did not place pastor's civil
rights action against church officials, parishioners and
others outside scope of First Amendment bar to determination
of ecclesiastical questions by civil courts. 42 U.S.C.A.
§§ 1981-1983, 1985, 1986; U.S.C.A.Const. Amend. 1.
Constitutional Law k90.1(1)
had no right under free speech clause of First Amendment
to be paid for preaching to a congregation that did not
wish to hear him. U.S.C.A.Const. Amend. 1.
Religious Societies k27(2)
procedure within church hierarchy, and not federal court,
was pastor's avenue for review of decision of church circuit
to relieve him of his charge because of inefficiency and
to order him to vacate parsonage.
Sheriffs and Constables k88
Sheriffs and Constables k111
affidavit of eviction was filed by officials of church which
owned residence occupied by pastor, the sheriff, his deputies,
and constables were duty bound to execute the eviction order,
which was valid on its face, and their good-faith compliance
with that duty relieved them of liability to pastor.
G. Gearheard, III, Frank R. Parker, Jackson, Miss., for
N. Fowler, Edward R. Young, Memphis, Tenn., for Wells.
E. McFall, New Orleans, La., for Herschede Hall and Garan.
R. Parvin, Starkville, Miss., for Garan.
Q. McKee, Starkville, Miss., for Herschede.
M. Gholson, Columbus, Miss., for Mersman Bros.
J. Tubb, West Point, Miss., for Pryor Co.
S. Dunn, Jackson, Miss., for Kellwood.
W. Dulaney, Jr., Tunica, Miss., for Irwin Co.
C. Butler, Eupora, Miss., for Salley & Lucius.
Roberts, Oxford, Miss., for Methodist Church.
Buchanan Meek, Eupora, Miss., for Public Official Defendant.
T. Denman, III, Eupora, Miss., for the Lathams and Latham
H. Walker, Oxford, Miss., for defendants-appellees.
BELL, AINSWORTH and RONEY, Circuit Judges.
This case involves the fundamental question of who will
preach from the pulpit of a church, and who will occupy
the church parsonage. The bare statement of the question
should make obvious the lack of jurisdiction of a civil
court. The answer to that question must come from the church.
The District Court dismissed this civil rights suit brought
by a pastor for damages for his ouster by church officials.
As if the long history of separation of ecclesiastical courts
and civil courts prior to and since the founding of this
country were not sufficient to ground an affirmance, the
first words of the Bill of Rights in the United States Constitution
would clearly establish the unconstitutionality of any law
asserted on behalf of the plaintiff: 'Congress shall make
no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting
the free exercise thereof.' Certainly a congregation's determination
as to who shall preach from the church pulpit is at the
very heart of the free exercise of religion, which plaintiffs
would corrode with an overlay of civil rights legislation
and other parts of the Constitution. The people of the United
States conveyed no power to Congress to vest its courts
with jurisdiction to settle purely ecclesiastical disputes.
William H. Simpson and his wife Crispina brought suit for
damages against the North Mississippi Conference of the
United Methodist Church, various church officials and parishioners,
local public officials, and several community business enterprises.
In a five count complaint, Simpson alleged that his removal
as pastor from four churches in Webster County, Mississippi,
and the subsequent eviction of his family from the church
parsonage, violated certain federal civil rights and the
First, Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments
to the United States Constitution.
was employed in June 1970 as the lay pastor of the Eupora,
Mississippi, Circuit of the United Methodist Church which
included the Leganon, South Union, LaGrange and Mount Moriah
churches. As part of the employment arrangement, he moved
into the Eupora Circuit parsonage.
'Human Rights' as his initial sermon topic, Simpson began
a crusade to rectify certain social behavior which he deemed
to be in conflict with church teachings. Whether the subject
matter chosen or the manner of its delivery was distasteful,
his pulpit messages were displeasing to certain members
of the congregation and other Methodist parishioners. Simpson
was found inefficient by the Circuit and relieved of his
charge. He was first asked and later ordered to vacate the
parsonage. After many delays, the church officials obtained
an eviction order from the local Justice of the Peace, which
was executed by the defendant sheriff, his deputies and
brought suit against 43 defendants asserting causes of action
for violation of rights secured by the Constitution and
by 42 U.S.C.A. § 1981 (equal rights to make and enforce
contracts and for security of persons and property), § 1982
(equal rights to the enjoyment of property), § 1983 (the
right to be free of deprivation of federally protected rights
under color of law), § 1985 (the right to be free of unlawful
conspiracies to interfere with federally protected rights),
and § 1986 (the right to obtain aid from other persons to
prevent the violation of federally protected rights).
church defendants filed a motion for summary judgment based
on discovery depositions and 98 pages of affidavits. Simpson
filed an answer to the motion and a fourteen page affidavit
of his own. In its opinion, the District Court treated the
motion for summary judgment as a motion to dismiss for lack
of subject mater jurisdiction:
matter how one may look at this dispute, it had to do with
the substance and content of the very words uttered within
the church itself, going right to the heart of the doctrine
and beliefs and type of sermons that are *493 delivered
in churches. Now, the church is a sanctuary, if one exists
anywhere, immune from the rule or subjection to the authority
of the civil courts, either state or federal, by virtue
of the First Amendment.
Court granted the defendant public officials' motion for
summary judgment on the ground that they were merely instruments
of the church instituted eviction, they were acting in good
faith, and they were immune from suit for damages by the
Justice of the Peace. The District Court certified the final
judgment as to the church and public official defendants
to permit this appeal while the case against certain business
establishments remained pending.
The First Amendment language that 'Congress shall make no
law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting
the free exercise thereof . . .' historically has stood
for the strict prohibition of governmental interference
in ecclesiastical matters. Only on rare occasions where
there existed a compelling governmental interest in the
regulation of public health, safety, and general welfare
have the courts ventured into this protected area. See,
e.g., Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205, 92 S.Ct. 1526, 32
L.Ed.2d 15 (1972); Gillette v. United States, 401 U.S. 437,
91 S.Ct. 828, 28 L.Ed.2d 168 (1971); Braunfeld v. Brown,
366 U.S. 599, 81 S.Ct. 1144, 6 L.Ed.2d 563 (1961); Prince
v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158, 64 S.Ct. 438, 88 L.Ed. 645
(1944); Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145, 25 L.Ed.
244 (1879). Such incursions have been cautiously made so
as not to interfere with the doctrinal beliefs and internal
decisions of the religious society. Thus, the law is clear:
civil courts are barred by the First Amendment from determining
ecclesiastical questions. Presbyterian Church v. Hull Memorial
Presbyterian Church, 393 U.S. 440, 89 S.Ct. 601, 21 L.Ed.2d
658 (1969); Kreshik v. St. Nicholas Cathedral, 363 U.S.
190, 80 S.Ct. 1037, 4 L.Ed.2d 1140 (1960); Kedroff v. St.
Nicholas Cathedral, 344 U.S. 94, 73 S.Ct. 143, 97 L.Ed.
120 (1952); Gonzalez v. Roman Catholic Archbishop, 280 U.S.
1, 50 S.Ct. 5, 74 L.Ed. 131 (1929); Watson v. Jones, 80
U.S. (13 Wall.) 679, 20 L.Ed. 666 (1872).
contends, however, that his claim can be resolved without
determining questions of religious doctrine. He argues that
the 'was dismissed because of his views on race and merger
of the segregated church organization, and because of the
color of his wife's skin, a racial dispute, not a religious
dispute.' He claims that he was following the church doctrine
as enunciated in the United Methodist Church's Book of Discipline
and was terminated for 'inefficiency,' not infidelity to
those doctrines, so that his discharge necessarily does
not involve a church dispute. He contends 'his complaint
can be resolved on the basis of 'neutral principles of law,'
which can be applied without establishing any particular
view or interpretation of religious doctrine.'
Simpson would narrowly limit ecclesiastical disputes to
differences in church doctrine. The cases negative such
a strict view. A 'spirit of freedom for religious organizations,
an independence from secular control or minipulation in
short, power to decide for themselves, free from state interference,
matters of church government as well as those of faith and
doctrine' is reflected in the Supreme Court's decisions.
Kedroff v. St. Nicholas Cathedral, 344, U.S. 94, 116, 73
S.Ct. 143, 97, L.Ed. 120 (1952).
The interaction between the church and its pastor is an
integral part of church government. In McClure v. Salvation
Army, 460 F.2d 553 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 409 U.S. 896,
93 S.Ct. 132, 34 L.Ed.2d 153 (1972), this Court discussed
the ecclesiastical nature of the pastor-church relationship.
relationship between an organized church and its ministers
is its life blood. The minister is the chief instrument
by which the church seeks to fulfil its purpose. Matters
touching *494 this relationship must necessarily be recognized
as of prime ecclesiastical concern. Just as the initial
function of selecting a minister is a matter of church administration
and government, so are the functions which accompany such
F.2d at 558-559. In McClure we held that the application
of the equal employment opportunities provisions of the
Civil Rights Act to the relationship between the Salvation
Army and its officer who was minister would result in encroachment
by the state into the area of religious freedom in violation
of the First Amendment. The application of the Civil Rights
Act provisions urged by Simpson would likewise result in
such a prohibited encroachment.
Simpson's characterization of his dismissal as racial in
nature carries him no further. The Supreme Court had determined
in another context that
values underlying these two provisions (of the First Amendment)
relating to religion have been zealously protected, sometimes
even at the expense of other interests of admittedly high
v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205, 214, 92 S.Ct. 1526, 1532, 1533,
32 L.Ed.2d 15 (1972). 'Only the gravest abuses, endangering
paramount interests, give occasion for permissible limitation.'
Thomas v. Collins, 323 U.S. 516, 530, 65 S.Ct. 315, 323,
89 L.Ed. 430 (1945).
Central Presbyterian Church v. Black Liberation Front, 303
F.Supp. 894 (E.D.Mo.1969), relied on by Simpson, is distinguishable
from the case at bar. There the church instituted a civil
rights action to enjoin members of the defendant association
from disrupting their religious services. The District Court
granted the affirmative relief requested because the defendants
were preventing the congregation's free exercise of religion.
Simpson is not prevented from worshipping by the church's
action. He is merely precluded from preaching to them. Although
he may have a breach of contract action under state law,
Simpson has no right under the free speech clause of the
First Amendment to be paid for preaching to a congregation
that does not wish to hear him.
Simpson was dismissed according to the procedures outlined
in the Church's Book of Discipline. Appeals to the District
Superintendent, to the Bishop, and finally to the Central
Council of the denomination were available for him to correct
any arbitrary or untoward action that may haven been taken
against him by the congregation. That appellate procedure
within the church hierarchy was his avenue for review. In
a line of cases from Watson v. Jones, supra, to Presbyterian
Church v. Hull Memorial Presbyterian Church, supra, the
Supreme Court has reaffirmed the principle that civil courts
are not an appropriate forum for review of internal ecclesiastical
decisions. The District Court was correct in dismissing
the church defendants for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
District Court granted the defendant public officials' motion
for summary judgment. Simpson appeals this decision as it
relates only to the sheriff, his deputies, and the constables.
gist of the charge against the defendant public officials
seems to be that they unlawfully evicted Simpson from his
church-owned residence after the affidavit for eviction
was made by the officials of the church. Simpson makes no
allegation that the Mississippi eviction statute is unconstitutional,
that the eviction order was improperly executed, or that
the procedure was characterized by official oppression,
abuse, or fraud. Simpson does not allege that the defendant
public officials were connected in any way with the denial
of Simpson's right to employment as pastor of the Eupora
The defendant public officials' response to legal duties
flowing from church instigated eviction proceedings was
in accordance with the laws of Mississippi. Once the affidavit
of eviction *495 was filed, the public officials were duty
bound to execute the order which was valid on its face.
Their good faith compliance with that duty relieves them
of liability. Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 87 S.Ct. 1213,
18 L.Ed.2d 288 (1967).
District Court properly decided the case for the defendant
public officials on their motion for summary judgment.
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