Can You Sue God? Two Times Someone Tried in the US

If Americans are known for doing anything, in pop culture, it’s being overly litigious. Unfortunately, this legal reputation is more a myth than anything, with only like 10% of injured Americans filing lawsuits for compensation. This is mostly because legal representation is very expensive, and you’re often still on the hook for fees even if you win your case. But that doesn’t change the cultural touchstone of many Americans being particularly afraid of being sued by some wealthy citizen. Which might have you thinking, someone out there has probably tried to sue God or something. But… Can you actually sue God? Which one(s), anyway?

Lightning

One of the earliest suits against “God” we could find in the American court system took place in 1969 and was filed in Arizona. This suit makes use of a fun legal loophole found in California, and does answer the question. Yes, you can in fact sue God. 

In 1960 lightning struck a house in Phoenix, to which some might characterize the unfortunate incident as an “act of God.” The home’s owner, Betty Penrose, agreed and sued “God” for damages in 1969. 

The legal logistics require some outside reading. Specifically, some travel to California. Singer Louis Gottleib was doing some completely unrelated business in Sonoma County around 1966. He had moved to Morning Star Ranch and started the Morningstar Commune. The idea behind the commune was to have a place where anyone could go and Gottleib wouldn’t kick anyone out. Sonoma County didn’t like that very much, and forbade anyone except Gottleib (and his family) from living on the property and bulldozed structures he had built on the ranch. 

Now what’s important for Penrose, is that in 1968, Gottleib attempted to deed the Morning Star Ranch to God. This was mostly on the premise that, if no person owned the land there wouldn’t be territorial disputes. Fitting for a place Gottleib wanted to be a community to which space was never denied to anyone. The government said no, because “if God was named owner on a quit claim deed, there would be no recourse for the collection of property taxes.” Basically they said you can’t deed your land to God because you can’t tax God. 

Suing God

Penrose’s lawyer didn’t really get the “God can’t own land” memo, and Penrose’s case was built on Gottleib deeding his land to God. If God could hypothetically own property, then God could be held liable for damages. Now California ruled that God was not a “natural or artificial person,” so good luck trying that again. 

Either way, Penrose’s case ended up going to trial, to which God obviously didn’t show up to defend themselves. Penrose won by default, but since God has no money, she probably didn’t receive anything in damages.

Chambers v. God

In 2008 Nebraska state senator Ernie Chambers filed a suit against God. Chambers represented North Omaha’s 11th District from 1971-2003 and 2013-2021. For a really long time, Chambers was also the only openly atheist member of any state legislature in the US. 

The suit filed by Chambers came in the wake of a sexual assault case in which the judge barred the words “rape,” “sexual assault,” “victim,” “assailant,” and “sexual assault kit” from being used in testimony. The victim filed a suit against the judge later for violating her right to free speech, but her suit was deemed frivolous. 

Chambers’s suit was largely a political one as he sought to shed light on public access to the courts. Specifically he wanted to comment on what constitutes a “frivolous lawsuit.” God was essentially sued for causing the bad things in the world, like natural disasters and war. Now we’ve already laid out that Chambers is an atheist, so clearly he was trying to make a statement. The point of this suit was to say that no lawsuit should be considered frivolous, and the doors of the court should be open to all. 

As far as how the suit went, you’re probably unsurprised to learn that it didn’t. First, it was argued that God couldn’t be given notice and thus couldn’t be served to appear in court. Chambers argued in return that, if God was omniscient, they would have notice by virtue of being omniscient. Eventually the suit was dismissed because God doesn’t have a home address to which papers could be served. 


See if you know your (probably more entertaining) fictional lawsuits here.

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