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First Liberty Briefing

First Liberty Briefing is an exclusive podcast hosted by First Liberty Institute’s Deputy General Counsel Jeremy Dys. In about 90-seconds, once a week, Jeremy recalls the stories that have shaped America’s religious liberty, from the founding era to current legal battles and more. It’s an insider’s look at the stories, cases, people, and laws that have made America the world’s leader in protecting religious liberty.
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Jan 31, 2018

Should courts make decisions on church doctrine or practices? Learn what happened to the Syrian Christian man at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


A case out of Oklahoma mixes the doctrine of church autonomy with the intrigue of a spy novel.

A Syrian man found his way to the First Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. of Tulsa, Oklahoma. There, he converted to Christianity and asked to be baptized. He was and, though he requested confidentiality, the church followed its Book of Church Order, listing the record of his baptism on the church’s website. When the man returned to Syria, he was kidnapped, tortured, and only escaped death by killing his guard and fleeing the country.

After he returned to the United States, he sued the Presbyterian church, alleging that the publication of his baptism led to his kidnap and torture.

But, the Oklahoma Supreme Court declined to review the matter, citing the church autonomy doctrine. According to that doctrine, churches are free from government interference when handling its internal, religious affairs—including baptism. Since it is the practice and custom of the Presbyterian Church to publicly celebrate baptisms, the court could not adjudicate the dispute.

While churches must exercise wisdom in following its customs to avoid unnecessary danger, how a church decides matters of faith and practice is rightly beyond the reach of the judiciary to review. As the US Supreme Court said in 1952, this doctrine, “radiates a spirit of freedom for religious organizations, an independence from secular control or manipulation.”

To learn how First Liberty is protecting religious liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.

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