The Devil Made Him Do It

Nebraska state senator sues God: read all about it, here. According to the report, the Deity “is accused of causing untold death and horror and threatening to cause more still.”

Let’s assume God can afford suitable counsel or will be able to find someone prepared to work pro bono for a “good cause”. This lawyer could take the brief even if concurrently working as a Devil’s Advocate, at least so long as there is no conflict. I think it is safe to assume God wouldn’t need to resort to the cab rank rule (if it applies in Ontario). Under that rule some lawyer would be obliged to act for God, were there to be such an action in Ontario. Paraphrasing from Wikipedia: the cab rank rule declares the obligation of a barrister to accept any work in a field in which the barrister he professes himself or herself competent to practise, at a court at which the barrister normally appears, and at the barrister’s usual billing rate.

An Ontario lawyer consulted by God might tell God that God could consider moving to Ontario. In Ontario, God will be able to rely on existing precedent to dismiss any action brought against God on the basis that God is not a person who can be sued in Ontario courts.

God’s lawyer will cite Joly v Pelletier [1999] O.J. No. 1728 [QL], 1999 CarswellOnt 1587 (Ont. S.C.J.) (non-human clone, being neither a human being nor a corporation, does not a qualifying as person under Ontario Rules of Civil procedure defining who has status to sue as a plaintiff). The lawyer will point out that Joly is applicable to actions against non-human defendants, who are not corporations, because the definitions of “defendant” and “plaintiff” in the Ontario legislation (the Courts of Justice Act and the Rules of Civil Procedure) use the same wording. Each refer to a “person” who sues (plaintiff) or who is sued (defendant). So, by basic legal reasoning, “person” must have the same meaning in both definitions unless the wording makes it clear the meaning is different. It doesn’t.

Hence, God, who neither human nor a corporation, cannot be sued in Ontario. Q. E. D.

We’ll ignore the intriguing question of whether God could waive this formality and the equally intriguing question of whether God could claim to be a corporation sole. After all, God is the head of God’s church.

In any event, the lack of standing to be sued eliminates any concerns about the validity of an oath taken to oneself. Or, would God affirm?

Of course, this won’t answer the question about the standing of God in Nebraska. Does God have an actual presence there, so that God has attorned and the Nebraska courts have jurisdiction in personam? Informed persons will recall that it has been said that God is always about in the quad.

This is another reminder that the devil is in the details.


  1. Oh, good, casuistry time: :-)

    I didn’t know of that case. Thank you. The majority (Nemetz was on the wrong side, this time) held, as you say, that God isn’t a person for the Criminal Code.

    I am, however, dealing with private law and, as you know, the state’s power in private law is more expansive than public law areas.

    Also, if the state wants to say that God is or isn’t a person for standing purposes, that has nothing to do with God’s actual status as a person. This would be what’s known as a legal fiction.

    Of course, you do realize that para 22 of Davie does not follow from para 21

    21 In my opinion, the word “person” is used in the statutes of Canada to describe someone to whom rights are granted and upon whom obligations are placed. There is no earthly authority which can grant rights or impose duties upon God. I can find no reason to think that the Parliament of Canada has attempted to do so in the enactment of sections of the Criminal Code dealing with the protection of privacy.

    22 In other words, I accept the proposition of the Crown that the definition of “person” for the purposes of s. 178.1 is “a human being … having rights or duties recognized by law” (Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles, 3rd ed. (1944), p. 1560). I do not accept the proposition that the word “person” used in s. 178.1 extends beyond the human species.

    Curiously, they went to the same definition of person as the judge did in Joly to hold it meant either a natural person (a human being) or a legal person such as a corporation.

    Interestingly, definition 5 of “person” in the current Concise Oxford is, in part: “one of the three modes of being of the Godhead … Father, Son … Holy Spirit [my emphasis]. Definition 3 is the source of the natural human being or corporation limitation.

    What happens, though, when the first clone is born through IVF and in an artificial womb? Is he or she a natural person?

    Also, if God is omnipotent and in everything and part of everything then God is at least a human being. God may be more than a human being but a human being plus more is not necessarily not a human being.

    Also, as I once pointed out elsewhere, the definitions in the Shorter & Compact editions of the Oxford were more helpful to the “non-humans”. One is “a rational being”.

    Besides how did the majority of the BCCA know that God isn’t a human being, but simply an more powerful human being. Did they have the God over for dinner the night before?

    Nemetz CJBC was astute enough to dissent and duck the question by holding that the expectation of privacy was subjective and was there regardless of the status of God as a person, therefore he didn’t have to decide whether God was a legal person. What I like best is this part (para 10).

    Did Davie believe that he was imparting ideas, information, etc.? The trial judge said that he did, and that finding is not challenged. He believed he was communicating with a Being who would hear his supplication. Was that belief reasonable? It is surely impossible to suggest that it was not. I conclude, therefore, that the statement was an “oral communication” and, it follows, a “private” one. [Emphasis added]

    Back to the mundane.

    Addendum: Sept 20/07. The 3rd definition in the Canadian Oxford (which didn’t exist as of Davie) is “Philos: a self-conscious or rational being.” Definition 11 is equally intriguing: “an individual as distinguished from a thing, a type, or an animal, esp. an individual regarded as having human dignity, personality or responsibility”. One would think a Diety has at least as much dignity as a human. I’m not sure what we’d do if turns out that the particular Diety is a collective entity rather than an “individual”. For example, the Jewish and Islamic Diety is clearly unitary.


  2. Then you should also look at both the Bumper Development case at Bumper Development Corp. v. Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis [1991] 1 WLR 1362 (CA)
    and the Mallick v. Mallick case of 1925 which says, “a Hindu idol is according to the long established authority founded upon the religious customs of the Hindus, and the recognition thereof by the courts of law in India and the Privy Council a juristic entity. It has a judicial status with the power of suing and being sued.”

    Hinduism Today had a good piece and there is a case comment called the God Who Won at International Journal of Cultural Property (1992), 1: 369-382.

    Which reminds me of the New York case which had a painting as a defendant: US v. One Tintoretto Painting 527 F. Supp. 1071 (SDNY 1981)reversed and remanded 691 F. 2d 603 (2d Cir. 1982)

    Odd the sort of chaps they let into court

  3. Some would point out that we let lawyers and judges into court. After that, where is there to go but up? Mallick I remember for some reason, although I can’t recall why. It’s probably from some civ pro class on procedure and standing, or some related issue.

  4. Two defences have now been filed in the case, apparently. I do like this line from the article: “[Senator Chambers] is seeking a permanent injunction against God.” A lawsuit against the eternal Prime Mover may be the first time the phrase “permanent injunction” could literally be true.

    This has all been good fun so far, but I worry that this incident could very quickly get some momentum and start masquerading as serious news in an election year. If Pat Robertson or Michael Newdow show up, it’s time to change channels.

  5. There’s already one US case (maybe) more, holding that Old ‘Nick (and staff) aren’t persons who can sued in US courts. “We question whether plaintiff may obtain personal jurisdiction over the defendant in this judicial district” see, Mayo v Satan and His Staff, sumarized at

    If Mephistopheles can’t be sued, then how can the old man? Sauce for the gander, no? also mentions, search on McGlynn, mentions another action in the US against God, which was also dismissed for jurisdicitional reasons.

    Nevertheless, the complaint must be dismissed because quite apart from the question of service on the principal defendants, there is no factual basis for the exercise of this court’s subject matter jurisdiction. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3).
    — Jones v. God, 1991 WL 42399 (E.D.Pa. 1991, March 25, 1991)

    The factual basis seems to have been “treating inhuman sex”, whatever that meant.