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Court Jurisdiction Over Church Disputes

Civil courts will not intervene in ecclesiastical matters.

Key point: The civil courts will not resolve lawsuits brought by dismissed church members challenging the validity of their dismissal.

• The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that the civil courts have no authority to intervene in internal church disputes, but it upheld a trial court's civil contempt order against a bishop for refusing to acknowledge the trial court's jurisdiction. In 1990, an elder in a local African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church sued a bishop for violating AME bylaws. Specifically, the elder alleged that the bishop was improperly threatening to remove him from his office within the church, and that he was improperly receiving monies. A trial judge asserted jurisdiction over the elder's lawsuit and issued an order prohibiting the bishop from removing the elder from his office and from obtaining any monies from the church. The bishop claimed that this order was ...

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  • May 2, 1994

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