A coalition of church groups has charged that the rights of "every religious body and every American" are threatened by the California Attorney General's actions against Herbert W. Armstrong's Worldwide Church of God.
In a brief submitted to the Supreme Court, the groups argued that if the California official's "claimed power to supervise religious institions" is upheld, religious freedom will be violated and the way will be cleared for the adoption of "state-established standards of religious observation and practice."
After hearing complaints that leaders of the Worldwide Church were using its assets for their personal use, California Attorney General George Deukmejian in January 1979, ordered that all church property and records be placed under state receivership. The receivership was eventually dissolved after church members posted a $3.4 surety bond.
Deukmejian later obtained a series of orders from California courts ordering that church documents be turned over to him. It is those orders that the church is asking the Supreme Court to review, a petition that the coalition's brief supports.
Deukmejian moved against the church by saying it was a public trust accountable to the state. The coalition said the action violates the First Amendment's gurantee of religious freedom because it represents "impermissible state participation in religious affairs, because its purpose and primary effect are to restrict religion and because it . . . results in excessive government entanglement with religion."
Church-state specialist Leo Pfeffer, one of the principal drafters of the brief, said at a news conference here that the California action "reeks of excessive entanglement," and warned that "the idea of a state-appointed official controlling the functions and operations of a live, ongoing church is frightening."
Asked about the Worldwide reluctant to make voluntary disclosures about its financial operations, Pfeffer replied that no American is forced to remain a member of such a group.
The Rev. Dean M. Kelley, executive for religious and civil liberties with the National Council of Churches, suggested that the attorney general should have pursued church leaders with criminal fraud charges instead. g
Religious groups represented in the brief include the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, National Council of Churches, Synagogue Council of America, Association of Evengelical Lutheran Churches, United Methodist Church, United Presbyterian Church, National Association of Evengelicals, and Northern California Ecumenical Council.