Free enamel pin when you buy any two Atlas Obscura products. Shop now.

Are You There God? I’d Like to Sue You

Yes, people do file lawsuits against the Almighty. But the devil, so to speak, is in the details.

I object!
I object! Michelangelo/Public Domain

Back in 2007, Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers filed a lawsuit against God.

Chambers, the plaintiff, was seeking a permanent injunction against the defendant, God, whom Chambers blamed in the suit for causing various natural disasters. The lawsuit further accused God of the crime of failing to stop “terroristic threats.” In the complaint, filed in Douglas County District Court, Chambers also stated that he had tried to contact God about these matters on multiple occasions, but without success.

Of course, as even Fox News pointed out at the time, the state senator was direct about the fact that he had no real expectation of a victory over the Almighty. Instead, he’d filed to try to make a broader point about the value of frivolous lawsuits. In the end, though, Chambers’ suit was thrown out of court not because it was frivolous per se, but because God had no fixed address at which he could be served notice.

Chambers’ lawsuit may have gone nowhere, but it did serve as a reminder that if you want to, anyone can try to sue God—even if winning might take a miracle.

“There’s nothing about the basic requirements of a complaint that suggest that you can’t sue God,” says the Georgetown University legal scholar Naomi Mezey. In the U.S. legal system, Mezey says, it’s relatively easy to bring a legitimate complaint against anyone, so long as you can meet the basic standards. While the exact rules vary from court to court, typically those standards include a named defendant, a relevant jurisdiction, details of the alleged wrongdoing, and proof of notice to the defendant of the lawsuit.

“Notice is in some ways the most banal of these requirements, [but] that is in fact an important part of our Constitutional right to due process,” says Mezey. “It feels minor and technical, but on the other hand it is a very important Constitutional guarantee that things do not get litigated against you without your being notified of them.”

It turns out it’s this inability to be served notice of a lawsuit that ultimately prevents most courts, like the one in the Chambers case, from allowing legal claims against God to proceed. Still, as Mezey notes, if you believe that God is everywhere, then questions of jurisdiction are at least up for debate—the deity, one could argue, has at least minimum contact with every state and county in the nation. “This is called personal jurisdiction. So maybe that question of personal jurisdiction isn’t so hard if you accept that God is omnipresent.”

Consider another case from 1971. In that one, a man named Gerald Mayo attempted to sue Satan (and his staff) for placing obstacles in his path and causing him general misery. Mayo’s case was similarly dismissed because there was nowhere to serve the Devil.

God creates man. Man sues god.
God creates man. Man sues god. Michelangelo/Public Domain

Clearly, serving notice against God (or the Devil) is tough, but there may be some ways around it. In Chambers’ case, he argued that since God is omniscient, he would of course have known about the lawsuit, thus fulfilling the notice requirement. And Mezey proposes an even more sweeping solution. “Maybe you say, God is not a person, therefore due process is not required for God.”

Even if one were to convince a court to hear a case against God, there is one other problem, and that is the issue of how to enforce a ruling for the plaintiff. “You can win a lawsuit, but then you need to get that lawsuit enforced,” says Mezey. “So every remedy you seek, then needs to be enforced in some way. You know there’s no enforcement in this lawsuit [against God].”

Complaints against God aren’t limited to U.S. courts. There are numerous examples of cases against God, or a god, from a variety of countries around the world. In 2007, a Romanian man serving time for murder tried to sue God for not protecting him from the Devil’s influence, which was turned down because God was not seen as a person in the eyes of Romanian law. In 2016, a case was brought to the courts in the Indian state of Bihar by a lawyer attempting to sue the Hindu god Rama. In that case, the court rejected the suit out of hand, noting that it wasn’t “practical.”

In the end, lawsuits against God are almost uniformly dismissed by courts. But that doesn’t mean that those with enough faith, whether in the system or in the Almighty, won’t keep trying to find a way.