Plaintiff argued that the trial court erred in enforcing the mahr provision in the Islamic marriage certificate because the Legislature has not prescribed a method to resolve religious issues.
The Court of Appeals found that:
Interpretation of a contract are questions of law and are reviewed de novo.
That the First Amendment of the United States Constitution provides, in relevant part, that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
That Civil courts may not decide religious doctrinal matters, but the United States Supreme Court has held that, in the context of resolving a church property dispute, a civil court may review religious documents if the court is applying neutral principles of law. By applying neutral principles of law, civil courts avoid “entanglement in questions of religious doctrine, polity, and practice.”
But they must take special care to scrutinize the document in purely secular terms, and not to rely on religious precepts.
Relying on decision from out of state jurisdictions, the Michigan Court of Appeals in an opinion to be published (Docket # 343411) found that the relief sought by plaintiff was simply to compel defendant to perform a secular obligation to which he contractually bound himself. In this regard, no doctrinal issue needed be passed upon, no implementation of a religious duty was contemplated, and no interference with religious authority would result. . . . To the extent that an enforceable promise can be found by the application of neutral principles of contract law, plaintiff will have demonstrated entitlement to the relief sought
It further held that, if a Court can apply “neutral principles of law” to enforce the Parties Mahr Agreement, though religious in appearance, then the Agreement survives any constitutional implications and enforcement of the Agreement will not violate the First Amendment proscriptions on the establishment of a church or the free exercise of religion in this country.
Furthermore the Court found that Plaintiff made no argument challenging any particular element for establishing the existence of a contract. Nor does plaintiff cite any authority for his contention that a neutral principle of law must be derived from a statute rather than from Michigan common law when examining a religious document.
[In the Islamic faith, a mahr is “[a] gift of money or property that must be made by a man to the woman he marries.” Black’s Law Dictionary (10th ed).]