Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
Officers, Directors, and Trustees - Part 2
A Georgia court ruled that it was not barred by the first amendment from deciding whether church members acted in accordance with state nonprofit corporation law in removing the church board.
Key point 6-06.4. Church officers and directors can be removed from office in the manner authorized by the church's governing documents. It is common for church bylaws to give the membership the authority to remove officers and directors who engage in specified misconduct or change their doctrinal position.
Key point 9-07. The first amendment allows civil courts to resolve internal church disputes so long as they can do so without interpreting doctrine or polity.
Church Officers, Directors, and Trustees
Judicial Resolution of Church Disputes

* A Georgia court ruled that it was not barred by the first amendment from deciding whether church members acted in accordance with state nonprofit corporation law in removing the church board, or in challenging some of the actions taken by the board members after their removal. A church's board of directors dismissed the church's pastor. The pastor refused to vacate his position, and the members of the church voted to remove the board members from office and from membership in the church pursuant to the state nonprofit corporation law under which the church was incorporated. The members then sued the dismissed board members based on actions the board took after being dismissed. The members claimed that the dismissed board members wrongfully took control of church bank accounts, issued checks from the church's account, and interfered with the church's ability to sell its property. The former board members asked the trial court to dismiss the lawsuit on the ground that the first amendment guaranty of religious freedom barred any resolution of the members' claims. The court agreed with the former board members' argument, and dismissed the case. The members appealed, claiming that a court did not have to delve into ecclesiastical matters to determine the disposition of church property and whether they had complied with the provisions of the state nonprofit corporation law in removing the board members. They contented that the issues regarding who constituted the proper board of directors and whether the alleged former board members could control church property were secular in nature and capable of judicial review. A state appeals court agreed. It concluded,

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Posted: March 1, 2004
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