The doctrine of “entanglement” holds that, under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, U.S. courts may not decide disputes concerning religious doctrine. Â For example, title to church property cannot be decided on the basis of which faction in a congregation is orthodox and which heretical. Â 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. Â 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? Â That’s an anthropoligical inquiry, not a religious one.
2. Â Assuming that the validity question is non-justiciable, why is the default position “not married” rather than “married”? Â The man concedes that they purported to be married, and they had four children together. Â So why isn’t the wife entitled to a rebuttable presumption that they were in fact married, Â with any claim to the contrary on the basis that the ceremony was invalid barred by the entanglement doctrine?