Givens v. St. Adalbert Church
The First Amendment's prohibition against "excessive entanglement" can bar the adjudication of a plaintiff's allegations concerning church doctrine and church governance. The plaintiff sued St. Adalbert Church, the Norwich Roman Catholic Diocesan Corp. and the Hartford Roman Catholic Diocesan Corp., alleging that a priest sexually assaulted her. The plaintiff's complaint alleged that the defendant religious institutions negligently hired and supervised the priest, when they knew or should have known he was engaging in, or in the past had engaged in, sexual improprieties with minors. The plaintiff also alleged that she sustained "spiritual damage" as a Roman Catholic and that the defendants were governed by the "canons, rules, regulations and discipline of the Roman Catholic Church." The defendants moved to dismiss in part and argued that a court decision on allegations that relate to church doctrine and church governance would result in "excessive entanglement" of matters that relate to religion, in violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article First, §3 of the Connecticut Constitution. Connecticut courts have held that allegations of sexual abuse that are brought against religious institutions can be adjudicated without violating the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Superior Court was not persuaded by the defendants' argument that the Connecticut Appellate Court's decision in Thibodeau v. American Baptist Churches of Connecticut bars the adjudication of the plaintiff's claims. The Superior Court held it can adjudicate the plaintiff's allegations concerning sexual abuse, without violating the First Amendment. The court granted in part the defendants' motion to dismiss allegations that concern church doctrine and church governance and the "spiritual damage" to the plaintiff, as a Roman Catholic. "[T]he plaintiff," wrote the court, "has not sustained her burden to show that the controversy in issue is outside the constitutional bar, such that secular court jurisdiction attaches."