OTTAWA – Today, the Supreme Court affirmed in Wall v. Judicial Committee of the Highwood Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses
that the courts have neither the jurisdiction, “legitimacy nor institutional capacity to deal with contentious matters of religious doctrine.”
“We welcome the strong and unanimous decision that churches’ membership decisions which involve matters of doctrine are not within the scope and competency of the courts," said Bruce J Clemenger, President of the EFC. “This has been a longstanding principle and it is good to have the court clearly re-affirm that matters of religious doctrine or dogma are beyond the court’s expertise and jurisdiction.”
CCRL President and constitutional lawyer Philip Horgan commented: “Mr. Justice Rowe’s reasons provide a strong statement on the limited role courts should have on reviewing internal decisions of private institutions, and in particular, ecclesiastical bodies. We are pleased with the court’s analysis of the limited role for judicial review of such institutional decisions, and the further recognition that secular courts are not qualified to rule on theological or ecclesiastical concerns.”
Randy Wall was disfellowshipped by the elders of the Highwood Congregation of the Jehovah's Witnesses in Calgary, Alberta in 2014. Mr. Wall, a real estate agent, claimed to have experienced an economic impact as a result of being disfellowshipped and later in 2014 asked the Alberta Court of Queen's bench to undertake a judicial review of the Highwood elders' decision.
The lower court referred the case to the Court of Appeal of Alberta to rule on whether the court has jurisdiction to review the Highwood decision. In a split decision, the Court of Appeal ruled that the lower court could conduct a judicial review of the Highwood elder's decision to disfellowship Mr. Wall. The Highwood congregation appealed this Court of Appeal decision to the Supreme Court of Canada which heard the case on November 2, 2017.
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and the Catholic Civil Rights League jointly intervened in the case to argue that:
- Congregational communities have the right to determine and maintain their religious identity
- The state should not interfere with the ecclesiastical decisions of religious communities, including decisions related to membership and discipline.
For additional resources on the EFC-CCRL intervention in Wall v. Judicial Committee of the Highwood Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses
, including written legal arguments, visit http://www.theEFC.ca/WallCase
For additional information or an interview, please contact:
Rick Hiemstra, Director of Media Relations
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada