A New York judge has sided with the Greek Orthodox Church in a fight over its constitution, ruling that the court has no authority to interfere in an internal church dispute.

State Supreme Court Justice Ira Gammerman on August 6 dismissed a suit brought by lay activists that said the church's charter, or constitution, had been improperly adopted in a violation of state corporate law.

"The First Amendment to the United States Constitution precludes courts from intervening in ecclesiastical matters, such as church governance, to resolve disputes involving religious organizations," Gammerman ruled.

Church officials released the judge's decision Thursday.

Restive parishioners, led by the independent group Orthodox Christian Laity, had charged that the charter "granted" by leaders of world Orthodoxy last year is not the same one they adopted during a 2002 convention.

The suit brought to the surface long-standing complaints from lay activists that they have been shut out of decision-making. They also accuse church leaders of bending to the will of Old World Orthodox leaders who have little tolerance for the American church's democratic impulses.

The new charter approved by Orthodox leaders in Istanbul rejected changes adopted in 2002 that attempted to carve out a minimal degree of influence for U.S. parishioners in selecting archbishops and other matters.

Thirty-four parishioners filed suit in February, asking the courts to invalidate the new charter and force the church to operate under its old constitution from 1977.

In his ruling, Gammerman said he had no jurisdiction to broker the dispute.

"The courts do not have the authority to interfere with the manner in which churches organize the titles of their clerics, to determine the eligibility ...

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