Wednesday, July 3, 2002
Church Can Bar Ex-Member With Contrary Religious Message—C.A.
By ROBERT GREENE, Staff Writer
A church has the right to bar an ex-member from entering its property to spread an arguably religious message, this district’s Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
The court issued a writ directing Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Yaffe to vacate his previous ruling denying the church’s application for a temporary restraining order against the disruptive former member.
Yaffe found that the ex-member’s right to free speech under the U.S. and California constitutions allowed her to enter the church to express her religious views. The Div. One panel rejected the finding that the case involved free speech questions and Yaffe’s determination that the dispute centered on religious doctrine, precluding the intervention of the courts.
Lady Cage-Barile’s repeated forays onto the property of the Church of Christ in Hollywood to call church members adulterers, agents of Satan and demon-worshipers touched not on free speech or religious issues, but on trespass, Justice Robert Mallano of Div. One said.
“The Church does not want her on its property, and Church leaders have told her so,” Mallano said. “Yet, she keeps returning….Simply put, Cage-Barile is a trespasser. The pertinent question, then, is whether a church or religious organization can exclude unwelcome persons from its premises. The answer is yes.”
‘Agents of Satan’
Cage-Barile was a member of the congregation in January 2001 when she began to follow other members into the church and shout at them. She said minister Daniel A. Rodriguez and other church leaders were “agents of Satan” because they allow people who have divorced and remarried to participate in church ministries.
Her actions frightened members of the church’s young adult ministry into meeting in secret to avoid her, the justice said. He explained that members learned the time and place of each meeting only by calling a special number.
A year after Cage-Barile began her disruptive behavior the church called a special meeting to discuss what to do about her. Cage-Barile was given several hours to present her views. The session ended with a vote to terminate Cage-Barile’s church membership, and church leaders followed up with a letter notifying her that she was no longer a member and demanding that she stop coming on church property.
But Cage-Barile kept coming, and frightened members began leaving the church. On one occasion, in February of this year, church leaders called the police to keep her off the property.
The injunction request was filed several days later.
At an April 12 hearing, Yaffe found that Cage-Barile was “making an absolute pest and nuisance of herself by shouting insults at members of the congregation,” but he denied relief.
Cage-Barile did not appear at the Court of Appeal hearing in May. The church was represented by Mark B. Hartzler of Hartzler & Hartzler and Derek L. Gaubatz, Eric Treene, Roman Storzer and Christine Lockhart of The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
Mallano said Cage-Barile’s free speech rights do not “trump the Church’s right to prohibit her disruptive conduct on its property.” In fact, he noted, a Penal Code section bars disrupting religious gatherings.
Cases support vindicating the First Amendment speech rights of individuals on private property that by use has taken on a public purpose, but Mallano said they do not apply to a church that generally is open only to its members. In this case, he said, “the Church is not an open forum.”
As for the assertion that Cage-Barile and the church were involved in an ecclesiastical dispute that the courts must avoid, Mallano said there was no need here to interpret or apply religious doctrine.
There was no doctrinal issue to be decided, but instead the simple fact that Cage-Barile had been ousted as a member by vote of the other members and was no longer welcome on the property.
“If a restraining order is granted, the effect on Cage-Barile would be negligible,” Mallano said. “She would no longer be able to annoy the congregation, tear down Church bulletins, or frighten children. She has said that she will continue her disruptive behavior until a court directs otherwise. The time has come.”
Mallano was joined by Presiding Justice Vaino Spencer and Justice Reuben Ortega.
The case is Church of Christ in Hollywood v. Superior Court, Cage-Barile RPI, B158554.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company