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Internal Church Disputes

Courts cannot interfere in ecclesiastical matters.

Illinois
State:

• An Illinois appeals court concluded that it had no authority to resolve an internal church dispute regarding the membership of a church's board of deacons. A local congregation adopted bylaws in 1988 that conflicted with the provisions of the hierarchical denomination with which it was affiliated. Among other things, the bylaws of the local church were never approved by the parent organization, and did not contain a statement that the church would be an "indivisible and inseparable part" of the denomination. The church elected deacons under the 1988 bylaws, and these individuals later were deposed by the denomination. A lawsuit was brought in civil court to determine the legal authority of the deposed deacons. A trial court ruled that it had no authority to resolve such a dispute, and the case was appealed to a state appeals court. The appeals court began its opinion with the following ...

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Richard R. Hammar is an attorney, CPA and author specializing in legal and tax issues for churches and clergy.

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Posted:
  • May 1, 1992

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