(Fact - Based on Memory)


A few years ago, the First Church of Christ, Scientist, headquartered in Boston, excommunicated a woman I’ll call Jane.  Having been a member of the church for 65 years, Jane would go down fighting.


It’s not all that rare to see litigation concerning Christian Scientists in a Probate and Family Court.  Our court would occasionally hear cases involving a seriously ill child who needed medical treatment contrary to the religious beliefs of one or both of the child’s parents. 


Jane’s case was different and it reminded me that one of the best parts of being a Probate and Family Court judge is the endless variety of issues we hear.  Jane had filed litigation requesting a ruling that her excommunication be overturned and that the Board of Directors of the church be ordered to comply with the dictates of its founder, Mary Baker Eddy. 


Seldom have I seen a self-represented litigant so sharply present her case.  Jane’s appearance reminded me of the Agatha Christie character, Miss Marple, and she shared Marple’s mental acuity.  “What is an internal religious matter doing in court?” was the question on all our minds.  Jane quickly brought us up to speed.  She argued that enforcement of the “deed of trust”, established by Eddy in 1892, was properly within the jurisdiction of the Probate and Family Court, just like any other trust.  And she cited some statutory authority to back up her claim. 


Jane argued with vigor that Eddy’s was a private trust, that all church members were beneficiaries, and that the terms of the trust permitted any church member to seek enforcement of the trust provisions. The directors countered with an argument that the trust was a public charitable trust and that only the Attorney General of Massachusetts had standing to bring an action concerning enforcement of the trust terms.  They also made arguments on religious freedom grounds. 


This was not a case of malfeasance; there were no allegations of mismanagement by the church’s directors or of anyone running off with church funds.   Jane’s primary concern was with what she perceived to be a drift by the church away from the teachings of its founder.   She alleged, for example, that the Board of Directors had permitted groups not affiliated with the church to hold a universal peace event on church property.  Jane’s copy of the church manual, written by Eddy over the course of her life, was well thumbed.  She knew every inch of it and she claimed that it and the trust specifically proscribed use of church property by non-members.   


The arguments wound on along this path and it was a pleasure to watch Jane in action but ultimately it became evident that the dispute between Jane and the Board of Directors was strictly theological and her excommunication was clearly an internal church matter. 


Citing the “church autonomy” doctrine, I dismissed Jane’s case. But that was not the end of the story.  Jane took her case to the Court of Appeals where she also made an impression as the Appeals Court acknowledged the "very clear articulation"  of her arguments.  Nevertheless, they still affirmed the initial ruling.  Unswayed, Jane took her case to the Supreme Court of the United States.  Alas, Jane had reached the end of the line.  The Supreme Court refused to “grant certiorari” which ended the litigation.


After her excommunication, Jane was out but never down.  Whenever I pass the beautiful Christian Science facilities in Boston, she comes to mind.  I am certain that she held up, even when her final appeal was rejected, excommunicado from the Church but not, for better or for worse, from her tenacity and stubbornness.  








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