Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
Inspecting Church Records
Most state nonprofit corporation laws give members a legal right to inspect corporate records for a "proper purpose."

Key point 6-03.1. Church members generally have no right to inspect church records unless such a right is conferred by state nonprofit corporation law, a church's charter or bylaws, state securities law (if the church has issued securities), or a subpoena. Church records enjoy no privilege against disclosure, with the exception of documents that are protected by the clergy-penitent privilege under state law.

A New York court ruled that members of churches incorporated under the state nonprofit corporation law have a legal right to inspect church records so long as they act in good faith and for a proper purpose, and their request pertains to records that are relevant and necessary to the proper purpose.

A church member asked to inspect certain church records. When his request was denied, he asked a court to compel the church to turn over the records pursuant to a provision in the state nonprofit corporation law giving "any person who shall have been a member of record of the corporation for at least six months immediately preceding his demand" to have access to the records of the corporation. A trial court denied the member's request, but this ruling was reversed on appeal.

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