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Must We Comply with a Subpoena for Giving Records?

Six things to note when a legal request for information is made to the church.

Our church received a subpoena requesting the donation records of someone in our congregation. The person is in a court case involving child support, and his ex-wife's lawyer wants to see how much money he has been giving to the church to prove he's making more than he says. Do we have to comply?

Let make several observations in response to your question.

Church records are not inherently "privileged." The term "privilege" or "privileged" refers to evidence that is not admissible in court because of some fundamental public policy. Records that are not privileged generally are subject to the subpoena power like any other organization. No state or federal law confers special "privileged" status on all church records.

There may be a very limited exception for notes created by a pastor that summarize the content of counseling sessions with parishioners if the sessions qualify for the clergy-penitent privilege under state law. In general, this means that the counseling consisted of confidential, spiritual counsel with the minister. But aside from this, neither the courts nor state or federal legislatures have recognized any generalized privilege for church records.

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