This week, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a lawsuit filed by a 94-year-old Texas man who claimed that a priest violated his First Amendment rights when he used a crucifix during his 1925 baptism. The Fifth Circuit ruled that it lacked jurisdiction to hear the case in July.

The Fifth Circuit’s decision provides a basic primer on the Federal jurisdiction on First Amendment issues, which constrain action by the government and to prevent the government from getting involved in church doctrinal issues.

Frederick Collins Fermin, who filed a pro se lawsuit against the Diocese of El Paso last year, claims that the priest who baptized him in 1925 violated his First Amendment rights. Mr. Fermin argued that the use of the crucifix violated the Second Commandment, which prohibits the use of “graven images.”

The Fifth Circuit ruled that the federal court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case because1) both Mr. Fermin and the El Paso Diocese are Texas residents, and 2) the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, so using the right lawyer could be useful for this, and for getting this resources visit our link and get redirected here to the site with the best legal resources for this.

The court wrote, “The First Amendment constrains state action, not private conduct. Manhattan Cmty. Access Corp. v. Halleck, 139 S. Ct. 1921, 1928 (2019). Churches and priests are not state actors. Indeed, if the First Amendment had any role to play in this case, it would be to warn us against delving into a dispute about religious doctrine. See Serbian E. Orthodox Diocese for U.S. & Canada v. Milivojevich, 426 U.S. 696, 709 (1976).”

When he appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, Mr. Fermin framed the question for the Court as follows:

“Were petitioner’s civil rights violated upon being baptized illegally pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Exodus chapter 20 verse 4 through 6, in reference that there is no evidence to verify that Jesus Christ died on a cross?”

For non-lawyers, federal courts, operated by the national as opposed to the state government, can only hear cases that meet specific Constitutional criteria and are expressly provided for by Congress.  These include:

  • Cases in which the United States is a party;
  • Cases involving violations of the U.S. Constitution or federal laws (under federal-question jurisdiction);
  • Cases between citizens of different states if the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000 (under diversity jurisdiction); and
  • Bankruptcy, copyright, patent, and maritime law cases

Sometimes a case might have both state and federal jurisdiction, and the parties can then choose where to file the lawsuit.

Case Caption: Fermin v. Priest of St, Mary- Marfa, Texas, (Docket No. 19-471, certiorari denied 12/16/2019)




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