Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
Financial Regulation - Part 2

Do church members have the authority to obtain a court order requiring an accounting of church funds? This was the question before a Florida appeals court in a recent case. A group of church members who had contributed funds to their church demanded that the church give an "accounting" of the use of the contributed funds. When the church refused, the members turned to the courts for relief. A trial judge ordered an immediate accounting, as well as annual audits "forever," and required the church to disclose the contents of a church safety deposit box to the complaining members. The church appealed, arguing that the civil courts had no jurisdiction over a church, and even if they did, they had no authority to order accountings or annual audits. A state appeals court, in upholding the trial judge's ruling regarding an accounting and inspection of the church's safety deposit box, observed that "we are of the opinion that this is not an improper interference by the government into a church, or ecclesiastical, matter. When the members of the church decided to incorporate their body under the laws of the state of Florida, they submitted themselves to the jurisdiction of the state courts in all matters of a corporate nature, such as accounting for funds." However, the court reversed the trial judge's order requiring annual audits forever, since "we cannot agree it is proper to order annual, ad infinitum, audits of the books" of a church. Matthews v. Adams, 520 So.2d 334 (Fl. App. 5th Dist. 1988).

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Posted: September 1, 1988
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