Spiritual Authority in relation to Civil Laws

A letter from Timothy Krantz to "Voithia"

Date: 98-04-12

Dear Voithia:

Thank you for printing my previous letter (posted 4/9/98) regarding my legal response to the "allegations" of Charter violations by the Archbishop that have been made by many and published on your website. Unfortunately, for the majority of letters that are submitted to your website and which disagree with your views, you continue to add your own prefatory statements or conclusions to those letters which disagree with your views. While such a practice may be warranted in a few instances for clarification, your practice of doing so for the majority of such letters appears to reflect an improper journalistic practice. This practice reveals a fear of letting such articles "stand by themselves" and allowing the reader to discern the truth for him/herself. Further, it only undermines the credibility of Voithia and makes your claim that the website is "for the good of the Church" simply an empty slogan. The matter is made worse when your statements are misleading or false, as they were in my letter. As such, I am writing to address the prefatory remarks that you made to my letter because it is not fair to the Orthodox faithful for you to distort the truth in the way that you have attempted to do so.

1. Your statement that your "legal committee" was "surprised that any lawyer would publicly discuss the legal merits of a legal action of an as yet unfiled ... civil action in so substantive a manner" is hypocritical. Your website is full of letters that do just the same. For instance, Mr Angelides accuses the Archbishop and the Patriarchate of numerous Charter violations. He then goes on to list the exact sections of the Charter that he claims have been violated as well as the acts of the hierarchs that supposedly violate said sections of the Charter. Then there is the GOAL organization which quite boldly states in its press release after their National Conference, that they are "considering whether to institute legal action against the Archdiocese." ( And how about all the non-legal "experts" who are giving their (erroneous) "legal" advice to all the Orthodox faithful? For instance, Dr. Valerie Karras, in her opening address to GOAL gives her legal opinions and conclusions as to why the Archbishop and the Church hierarchy and others are "bound by the Charter" and the "civil laws" of the United States.(

All of these people are doing the same thing - publicly discussing the "legal merits" of the hierarchs' action in a "substantive manner." And now your "legal committee" expresses shock that I do the same thing? That is hypocritical. Why isn't your "legal committee" surprised about all the non-lawyers and Mr. Angelides (atty) who are "publicly discussing" the "legal merits" of the Archbishop's actions in "so substantive a manner?" Are they the only ones who can publicly discuss these matters and make "legal" conclusions? And yet, when a hierarch states the position of the Church (spiritual authority* in relation to civil laws) via canon law or a lawyer gives a legal opinion on the same subject, your "legal committee" is "surprised." Where is the logic or fairness in your "legal committee's" statement? Let's face it, if your website and others are going to continue to make and publish legal conclusions/opinions (which are false or misleading) to the Orthodox faithful, then all who are making such statements should not be "surprised" that they will be called to account for making such statements. For isn't that exactly what you are trying to do - hold the Archbishop and all the hierarchy accountable for their actions? And even threatening to take legal action against the same in the future? Surely, your "legal committee" can't be "surprised" and complain about my actions when your website is doing the same thing.

2. The attempt by you and your "legal committee" to dismiss my legal opinion as based on a legal case which is outdated and not applicable "in light of the present state of the law in the United States," is a totally false statement and a poor attempt to dismiss the merits of the Supreme Court case that I cited. By making such a statement, you misrepresent the truth to the Orthodox faithful.

To begin with, any lawyer knows that all Supreme Court cases are valid and binding as interpreting the US Constitution until they are overturned. This is called "stare decisis." The Supreme Court must follow all cases it has previously decided and can ignore such cases only when those cases are overturned by the Supreme Court itself (and in this instance, the case I cited has not been overturned and is not "outdated" as you falsely try to imply).

Secondly, the age of a case has nothing to do with its validity. Again, if your "legal committee" knew how the Supreme Court interprets its cases, it would not make such ridiculous and misleading statements. If your "legal committee" took the time to research the history of the Supreme Court cases which deal with the limitations of civil courts in resolving religious controversies, they would have discovered that the landmark case for this issue is none other than an 1872 case (Watson vs Jones, 80 US 679)! The next major case was Gonzalez vs The Roman Catholic Archbishop 280 US 1, (1929). The list goes on. The point is that in cases where the resolution of religious controversies is involved in a hierarchical church, these "older cases" (which you try to falsely imply as no longer applicable) are still cited to this day as precedent (cases which the Supreme Court must follow)! Why? Because they are the laws of our country until overturned by the Supreme Court itself. The failure of your "legal committee" to understand this most elementary fact regarding the case law of the Supreme Court makes me believe that they don't know what they are talking about or that they/you are trying to deliberately mislead the Orthodox faithful on this issue.

As further proof of the falsity of your "legal committee's" conclusions, one need only look at the legal cases themselves to see if the case which I referred to is still being cited as applicable law (ie. has not been overturned by the Supreme Court itself). Your readers can do this by themselves via the Internet. I did so, and found that the Supreme Court cited (ie. referred to the case as still being valid and applicable law which they must follow) the Milivojevich case numerous times with the most recent citation in a 1997 decision. Further, the Federal Courts have cited it numerous times as well with the latest being in 1994. For you, your "legal committee" and the readers who are interested and want to verify the truth of my statements, I suggest that they look at the case at: This cite will plug them in to the full text of the case that I cited (Serbian Orth. Dioc. vs. Milivojevich). Above the title of the case, they will see two phrases, "Cases citing the case: Supreme Court" and another one for Circuit Courts (Federal Courts). Once they click on to those cites, they will be connected to all the recent cases which cite the Milivojevich case. This will prove that the Milivojevich case still is valid law regarding religious controversies in a hierarchical church and that it has not been overturned but rather is still cited by the Federal Courts and the United States Supreme Court and must be followed by all US courts including the US Supreme Court.

3. Additionally, the case that I cited (Milivojevich) is based upon the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, Freedom of Religion clause. Your "legal committee's" statement that the case is not applicable "in light of the present state of the law in the United States" seems to imply that the First Amendment has been changed. Since neither the First Amendment or the Milivojevich case has been changed or overruled, your "legal committee" is wrong on both points and their statement, again, is false and misleads the Orthodox faithful.

4. Finally, since the statements and conclusions of your "legal committee" have been shown to have no factual basis, their/your final conclusion/statement, that your legal committee was not "displeased that Mr. Krantz was basing his opinion on that case" is plainly exposed for what it is - a statement with no factual support which again attempts to mislead the Orthodox faithful as to the truth of the matter on this very important issue. The truth of the matter is just the opposite, the Milivojevich case is still the law of the United States when it comes to interpreting the First Amendment (freedom of religion clause) regarding religious controversies in a hierarchical church. Thus, I remind you once again, that it is the Church's hierarchy who have correctly stated the proper relation between the civil laws of the United States and the spiritual authority of the Eastern Orthodox Church (a hierarchical church). All others who disagree place themselves outside the Church and the laws of the United States as to this issue.

Note I: the fact that I have reached the above legal conclusion does not mean that I advocate the wholesale disregard of our Charter. My opinion simply points out (1) the hierarchical nature of spiritual authority in our Church and (2) the correct legal relationship between the spiritual authority of a hierarchical church and the civil laws of the United States. The case law of the Supreme Court of the United States tells us that the Church hierarchy has the legal right to act in contradiction of its own Charter (ie. the Court acknowledges that which we already know - the existance of spiritual authority of the Church hierarchy over the laity and the acknowledgment of this authority by the US Constitution and our legal system). This is something that many people (Voithia, GOAL, etc.) do not seem to believe. To the extent that they attempt to put the laity on an equal par with the Church hierarchy (make the Church structure purely democratic and no longer hierarchical or by claiming that the hierarchy does not have the inherent spiritual authority to deviate from the Charter), they are wrong. The issue as to how this spiritual authority should be exercised in relation to the laity is a completely separate issue from the issue I have addressed above and there exists a great difference between these two issues. But one cannot begin to discuss the second issue (proper exercise of spiritual authority) without understanding and acknowledging the first issue (the existence and extent of spiritual authority inherent in the Church's hierarchy over the laity and the deference the American civil laws/courts must show to the spiritual authority of the hierarchy regarding religious controversies in a hierarchical church - ie. not interfering with Church hierarchy to act in contradiction of its own Charter when dealing with the laity of the Church).

Note: II - the discussion of the Milivojevich case is important at this time and not merely "legal trivia or machinations" as some would say. The reason for its importance is because it deals squarely with the issue that Voithia, GOAL and others are raising against the Church hierarchy - can the Church hierarchy act in disregard of the Charter and the "rights" it grants to the laity? In Milivojevich case, the Holy Synod reorganized the composition (ie. dioceses) of the Archdiocese in America. Some of the Church laity thought that this was illegal and claimed that it was done in contradiction of the Church's Charter (sound a little bit familiar yet?). Lead by a bishop who was effected by the reorganization, a lawsuit was filed challenging the hierarchy's action as to the jurisdictional reorganization and the bishop's dismissal. As stated above, the Supreme Court held that in a hierarchical church, the hierarchy can take actions which are in contradiction to its Charter (and the "rights" of the laity). This is why this case is so important, because it deals exactly with the situation that is facing the Greek Orthodox Church in America today. Since Voithia, GOAL and others are challenging the actions of the Church's hierarchy as violations of the Charter and their "rights," no one should be "surprised" that I have merely pointed out a legal case which addresses this issue and has been ruled upon by the highest court in our country - the Supreme Court of the United States - which has ruled in favor of the Church's hierarchy on this issue.

Note III: Finally, this letter does not represent an official legal opinion on behalf of our Archdiocese (as you seem to imply), for I am sure that they have their own lawyers. This is merely a legal opinion written by an Orthodox Christian who also happens to be a lawyer and, as such, is very concerned about what he hears and reads concerning our Church and the allegations of "illegal" actions of the hierarchy in relation to the Church's Charter. It is not a "call to legal action" as you and others (falsely) try to imply. Rather, it is written to clarify a very important issue - an issue which was initially raised on Voithia and now by GOAL- for all concerned Orthodox faithful and, to use your words, for "the good of the Church."

In Christ,
Timothy Krantz, Esq.

* - my use of the term "spiritual authority" in this letter (as well as in my previous letter) includes the spiritual, ecclesiastical and canonical authority of the hierarchy.

[ EKKLISIA |  -  April 12, 1998 ]