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Determining Church Property Ownership

Most church property disputes are resolved on the basis of neutral principles of law contained in deeds, local church charters and bylaws, and denominational bylaws.

Last Reviewed: March 10, 2021

Key point 7-03.3. Most courts apply the "neutral principles of law" rule in resolving disputes over the ownership and control of property in "hierarchical" churches. Under this rule, the civil courts apply neutral principles of law, involving no inquiry into church doctrine, in resolving church property disputes. Generally, this means applying neutral legal principles to nondoctrinal language in any one or more of the following documents: (1) deeds to church property; (2) a church's corporate charter; (3) a state law addressing the resolution of church property disputes; (4) church bylaws; or (5) a parent denomination's bylaws.

A New York court ruled that a local church retained ownership of its property following its disaffiliation from a parent denomination.

A church affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted unanimously to disassociate from the parent ...

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Posted:
  • July 1, 2007
  • Last Reviewed: March 10, 2021

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