After Baptism Gone Wrong, Court Weakens Church Protections
January 29, 2018
Oklahoma Supreme Court says membership matters most in tortured ex-Muslim’s lawsuit.
When churches face lawsuits, does their religious liberty hinge on whether or not their accuser is an official member? Experts are concerned that, in an unusual baptism gone wrong, a state supreme court has decided yes.
Nearly a year ago, the Oklahoma Supreme Court decided 5–3 that a Muslim convert to Christianity—whose baptism nearly got him killed—couldn’t sue First Presbyterian Church in Tulsa for inadvertently alerting his would-be murderers with its online announcement of the baptism.
Ten months later—in December 2017—the justices changed their minds, issuing a 5–4 decision that the man could, in fact, have his day in court.
This month, First Presbyterian asked the Sooner State’s top court to take a third look at the case, arguing that the justices mixed up two separate issues of law: the ecclesiastical extension/church autonomy doctrine and the ministerial exception.
The trouble started more than six years ago, when a Syrian Muslim man converted to Christianity and asked if he could be baptized by First Presbyterian. The man—who is called John Doe in court documents to protect his identity—says he asked the church to keep quiet about it, since shari‘ah law demands that converts from Islam be executed.
Later that day, the man flew to Syria to marry his fiancée. A few weeks later, while still there, he was kidnapped and threatened by Islamist extremists, including his uncle and cousin.
His abductors had discovered his conversion through First Presbyterian’s online weekly bulletin, which announced his baptism, according to his lawsuit. After three days of torture, the man escaped after killing his uncle during a struggle for a gun.