FRANKFORT (KT) — Attorney General Daniel Cameron Friday led a coalition of 15 states in filing an amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court supporting the First Amendment right of a Virginia church to define who is a minister under its own religious doctrine. 

New Life in Christ Church is seeking Supreme Court review of a recent ruling by a Virginia state court that denied a tax exemption to the church’s parsonage based on the government’s interpretation of the church’s religious doctrine.

“Time and time again, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the authority to make doctrinal decisions, like determining who is a minister, belongs to the faith community, not the government or courts,” Cameron said. “Under the First Amendment, religious institutions have the right to interpret their own doctrine, and we led this coalition of 15 attorneys general to ask the Supreme Court to uphold this foundational principle by overturning the Virginia court’s ruling that disregards the religious liberty of New Life in Christ Church.”

In the brief, Cameron and the states argue that the Virginia court’s decision violates the First Amendment rights of New Life in Christ Church by disregarding the church’s authority to define who is or is not a “minister” to its congregation. Historically, the U.S. Supreme Court has reserved the right to make ecclesiastical decisions and interpret religious doctrine to the faith community. As the Supreme Court has explained, “Courts are not arbiters of scriptural interpretation.”

The coalition writes, “While the Court’s decisions applying both of the Religion Clauses has waxed and waned over time, it has repeatedly reaffirmed the simple rule that courts should defer to the judgment of religious authorities when adjudicating disputes that turn on ecclesiastical questions.”

Cameron was joined by attorneys general in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah in filing the amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court on September 3, 2021.