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Smith v. Calvary Christian Church
Michigan Supreme Court
614 N.W.2d 590 (2000)
David Orion Smith (plaintiff) became a member of Calvary Christian Church (Calvary) (defendant) in 1986. When Smith did so, he consented to accept discipline imposed by the church and to not cause division within the church. Early in his attendance at the church, Smith disclosed to the church’s pastor, Mark Byers, that he had visited prostitutes in the past, believing that this would remain confidential. In 1991 Smith was removed from the church’s membership for causing division in the church over religious doctrine. For Smith to be reinstated as a member, Byers required Smith to confess that he had previously visited prostitutes to the church board and Smith’s wife, and Smith did so. Smith continued to cause division in the church, so the church decided to “mark” Smith by announcing Smith’s sins to the congregation during a church service. Smith’s family was warned that Smith would be marked on December 8, 1996, so they could avoid the service. Smith had formally withdrawn his membership by then, but he continued to remain involved with the church. Smith came to church on the day of his marking to argue with Byers over religious doctrine. Byers announced to the congregation that Smith had visited prostitutes. Smith then filed several claims against Calvary, including several intentional-tort claims, all on the grounds that Smith’s disclosure to Byers about visiting prostitutes was confidential and should not have been disclosed to the congregation. The trial court granted summary disposition in favor of Calvary, holding that what a church must keep confidential was a matter of religious doctrine that a civil court cannot decide. On appeal, the appellate court held that Smith’s membership in the church was determinative of whether Smith could bring tort claims against Calvary and remanded to the trial court. Calvary appealed.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Cavanagh, J.)
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