Iowa Supreme Court revives lawsuit over Methodist's ''Satan'' remark

Posted: Friday, June 20, 2003

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) The Iowa Supreme Court has revived a lawsuit from a parishioner who was offended by a United Methodist Church official's letter warning that ''the spirit of Satan'' was at work in a congregation.

The court said constitutional religious freedom prevents courts from entering ''purely ecclesiastical matters'' but since the letter was circulated outside the congregation, a trial should settle the merits.

The case involves a congregation in Shell Rock, Iowa.

The Rev. Jerrold Swinton, then district superintendent, attended services and heard differing views of the pastor. Court records say church member Jane Kliebenstein made comments that prompted Swinton's letter.

''When will you stop the blaming, negative and unhappy persons among you from tearing down the spirit of Jesus Christ among you?'' Swinton wrote, asking members to acknowledge ''the spirit of Satan'' was at work.

That caused Kliebenstein and her husband to file a defamation suit.

A lower court summarily dismissed the case. The high court has now ordered further proceedings without expressing an opinion on the outcome.

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