Ten prominent scholars in the fields of religion and the social sciences signed an amicus brief asking the United States Supreme Court to review the Texas Court of Appeals decision in The Local Church et al v. Harvest House et al on the basis of the “detrimental effect this ruling may have on religious freedom in America.” In particular the scholars argued that:
- In ruling that the word cult is incapable of defamatory meaning, regardless of context which attributed criminal behavior to “cults,” the Texas Court of Appeals violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution and damaged the diversity of
religious expression that is a bulwark of our society.
- Contrary to the ruling of the Texas Court, the word cult carries a secular, potentially defamatory meaning, and this secular meaning was highlighted by the context of the accusation in ECNR.
- The term cult is legally capable of defamation, and this case should therefore have been presented to a jury.
- In wrongly applying the “ecclesiastical abstention” doctrine to shield Respondents from
liability for their otherwise defamatory accusations related to being a “cult,” the Texas Court violated the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment by treating Petitioners as if they were members of Respondents’ denomination, and also destroyed the doctrine’s “implied consent” requirement.
The brief was filed by Derek H. Davis, J.D., Ph.D., Dean of the Graduate School at University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, and was signed by:
- Ronald B. Flowers, Ph.D., Author, Professor Emeritus of Religion at Texas Christian University;
- H. Newton Maloney, Ph.D., Author, retired Senior Professor of Psychology, Department of Clinical Psychology, at Fuller Theological Seminary;
- Timothy Miller, Ph.D., Author, Professor of Religious Studies, University of Kansas;
- William L. Pitts, Ph.D., Author, Professor of History of Christianity and Director of Graduate Studies, Department of Religion, Baylor University;
- Father John A. Saliba, Ph.D., S.J., Author, Professor of Religious Studies at University of Detroit, Mercy;
- Rodney Stark, Ph.D., Author, Co-Director, Institute for Studies of Religion and University Professor of the Social Sciences, Baylor University;
- Mark G. Toulouse, Ph.D., Author, Professor of American Religious History at Brite Divinity School, Texas Christian University;
- Stuart A. Wright, Ph.D., Author, Professor of Sociology and Assistant Director for Research and Sponsored Programs Administration, Lamar University;
- Edwin S. Gaustad, Ph.D., Author, Professor Emeritus of History and Religious Studies, University of California-Riverside; and
- James M. Dunn, Ph.D., Author, Visiting Professor of Christianity and Public Policy at Wake Forest Divinity School, Former Executive Director of Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs.