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Order of St. Benedict v. Steinhauser, 234 U.S. 640 (1914)

Order of St. Benedict v. Steinhauser

No. 267

Argued March 11, 1914

Decided June 22, 1914

234 U.S. 640


In a suit by an ecclesiastical society to recover from the administrator of a deceased member assets of the estate as community property under the provisions of the constitution and membership, the question for the courts is not one of canon law or ecclesiastical polity, but one solely of civil rights.

Where the state has chartered a society as one of "religious men living in community," a provision in its constitution for community ownership, with renunciation of individual rights in private property during continuance of membership, with freedom of withdrawal, is not invalid as opposed to the public policy of, but is directly sanctioned by, the state creating the society.

An agreement to live in community and renounce individual rights of property, but with a right to withdraw at any time, invades no constitutional right; nor, in this case, does it transgress any statute of the State of New Jersey, which chartered the society with which the agreement is made.

Subject to the inhibitions of the Constitution of the United States, the legislature of each state is the arbiter of its public policy.

In this case, held that an agreement made by a member of a religious order, chartered as a society of religious men living in community, that his individual earnings and acquisitions, like those of other members, should go into the common fund, included his earnings from copyrights of books, and also held that as such agreement contained a right to withdraw at any time there was no infringement of any right protected by the Constitution of the United States, nor was it against the public policy of the State of New Jersey, which granted the charter to the society.

194 F. 289 reversed.

The facts, which involve the validity under the laws of New Jersey and the public policy of that state of an agreement

Page 234 U. S. 641

between an ecclesiastical order and one of its members, are stated in the opinion.

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