Two interesting cases involving religion emerged from the Supreme Court yesterday (June 28, 2010).
The Court declined to examine whether an Oregon resident who allegedly was sexually molested by a Roman Catholic priest in the 1960s can sue the Vatican for compensatory damages. What this means is that the trial, which names the Vatican as a defendant, can move forward. According to the The Christian Science Monitor,
A federal judge and a federal appeals court had ruled earlier that the lawsuit could go forward. Lawyers for the Vatican, also known as the Holy See, asked the high court to take up the case and dismiss it. They argued that the Vatican could not be held legally responsible for alleged criminal acts undertaken by a priest when those illegal acts were unrelated to his work for the Roman Catholic Church.
At issue was whether the Vatican, a foreign sovereign nation, can be forced to pay money damages to a US citizen for the alleged illegal acts of one of its employees.
Most priests do not have deep pockets to pay such claims. The Vatican does.
Foreign nations are generally immune from lawsuits. But under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, Congress said a foreign nation can be sued in a US court if the harmful act was carried out by an official or employee of the foreign state “while acting within the scope of his office or employment.”
In another matter, a decision was entered in CLS v. Martinez upholding lower court decisions that the California Hastings College of the Law was not required to give public funds or recognition to a Christian-only student group that denied non-Christians or gays membership in the group.
The Court heard the case in April. The Rev. Barry Lynn, also an attorney, of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, briefly explained the Christian Legal Society v. Martinez case: