Kedroff v. Saint Nicholas Cathedral - 344 U.S. 94 (1952)
U.S. Supreme Court
Kedroff v. Saint Nicholas Cathedral, 344 U.S. 94 (1952)
Kedroff v. Saint Nicholas Cathedral
Argued February 1, 1952
Reargued October 14, 1952
Decided November 24, 1952
344 U.S. 94
In a suit brought in a New York state court by a corporation, holder of the legal title, to determine which prelate was entitled to the use and occupancy of a Cathedral of the Russian Orthodox Church in New York City, the Court of Appeals of New York held for plaintiff, on the ground that Article 5-C of the Religious Corporations Law of New York had the purpose and effect of transferring the administrative control of the Russian Orthodox churches in North America from the Supreme Church Authority in Moscow to the authorities selected by a convention of the North American churches.
Held: ss thus construed and applied, the New York statute interferes with the free exercise of religion, contrary to the First Amendment, made applicable to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 344 U. S. 95-121.
(a) Legislation which determines, in an hierarchical church, ecclesiastical administration or the appointment of the clergy, or transfers control of churches from one group to another, interferes with the free exercise of religion contrary to the Constitution. Pp. 344 U. S. 106-116, 344 U. S. 119.
(b) That the purpose of such legislation is to protect American churches from infiltration of atheistic or subversive influences does not require a different result, though legislative power to punish subversive action cannot be doubted, and neither his robe nor his pulpit would be a defense to a cleric attempting subversive actions. Pp. 344 U. S. 108-110, 344 U. S. 117-121.
(d) Freedom to select the clergy, where no improper methods of choice are proven, must now be said to have federal constitutional protection against state interference, as a part of the free exercise of religion. Pp. 344 U. S. 115-116.
(e) Even in those cases when property rights follow as incidents from decisions of the church custom or law on ecclesiastical issues, the church rule controls and must be accepted by the civil courts. Watson v. Jones, 13 Wall. 679. Pp. 344 U. S. 115-116, 120-121.
302 N.Y. 1, 33, 96 N.E.2d 56, 74, reversed and remanded.
In an action brought in a state court by appellee, a New York corporation, to determine the right to the use and occupancy of a church in New York City, the trial court gave judgment in favor of the defendants, appellants here. 192 Misc. 327, 77 N.Y.S.2d 333. The Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court affirmed. 276 App.Div. 309, 94 N.Y.S.2d 453. The Court of Appeals reversed. 302 N.Y. 1, 33, 96 N.E.2d 56, 74. On appeal to this Court, reversed and remanded, p. 344 U. S. 121.