The doctrine of “entanglement” holds that, under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, U.S. courts may not decide disputes concerning religious doctrine. For example, title to church property cannot be decided on the basis of which faction in a congregation is orthodox and which heretical. That makes sense.
But the holding in Madireddy v. Madireddy – that a woman’s claim for alimony based on a Hindu marriage ceremony performed in India in 1952 must be dismissed because the courts cannot determine whether the marriage was valid without inquiry into Hindu religious law – strikes me as odd.
1. Why can’t the court merely ask whether a person of ordinary understanding in Andhra Pradesh in 1952 would have understood the couple as being married? That’s an anthropoligical inquiry, not a religious one.
2. Assuming that the validity question is non-justiciable, why is the default position “not married” rather than “married”? The man concedes that they purported to be married, and they had four children together. So why isn’t the wife entitled to a rebuttable presumption that they were in fact married, with any claim to the contrary on the basis that the ceremony was invalid barred by the entanglement doctrine?