On April 5, 2024, the National Women’s Law Center, along with Interfaith Alliance, Lambda Legal, and the Sikh Coalition, filed an amicus brief to an en banc Ninth Circuit panel, in Huntsman v. Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The brief was authored by the Duke University School of Law Appellate Litigation Clinic.

Over the course of many years, James Huntsman tithed millions of dollars to the Church, relying on representations that such funds would not be used to fund for-profit enterprises. He later learned from a whistleblower complaint to the IRS, however, that despite those repeated assurances, the Church was in fact using tithing money to fund a for-profit shopping mall in Salt Lake City and purposefully concealed the source of those funds from the public. When Huntsman sued for fraud, the district court accepted the Church’s argument that the First Amendment—under a doctrine called ecclesiastical abstention, which prohibits civil courts from resolving issues of religious doctrine—allowed it to block the case from proceeding. Huntsman appealed, and on August 7, 2023, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court decision based on the ample evidence that the Church had fraudulently misrepresented the use of tithing funds. The Church was granted a rehearing en banc.

Our amicus brief highlights that the Church seeks a dramatic expansion of ecclesiastical abstention, one that would close the courthouse door for religious adherents and non-adherents alike in many ordinary cases, including cases involving illegal discrimination. Our brief also explains how Huntsman’s claim may be resolved without addressing questions of religious doctrine.