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Pastor, Church & Law

written by Richard R. Hammar, J.D., LL.M., CPA

Hierarchical Churches—the Compulsory Deference Rule

Volume 2 . Chapter 7 . § 7-03.2
Key point 7-03.2. Some courts apply the "compulsory deference" rule in resolving disputes over the ownership and control of property in "hierarchical" churches. Under this rule, the civil courts defer to the determinations of denominational agencies in resolving such disputes.

A few states have adopted the compulsory deference rule in resolving church property disputes involving hierarchical churches, and have awarded title to local church property to a denominational agency.50 The Supreme Court has recognized this as one of many possible options available to the civil courts in resolving church property disputes.

Case Studies

• A California appeals court ruled that a national church held title to the property of a local church that had voted ...

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