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.
The Alabama Supreme Court ruled that church members who lost their membership for violating a church bylaw ban on suing the church lost their right as members to inspect church records, and that the civil courts have the limited authority to determine if the church bylaws were duly adopted.
A dispute arose among the members of a church, which divided the congregation into two factions. One faction included the board of deacons (the "defendants"). An attorney for the other faction (the "plaintiffs") wrote a letter to the defendants, informing them that his clients wanted to exercise their legal right as members to inspect and copy the complete books, records, accounts and minutes of the church, including (1) church budgets; (2) all checking and savings accounts; (3) check registers; (4) bank statements; (5) certificates of deposit, money market funds, and other investments; (6) minutes of meetings of the trustees and deacons; (7) records of deposits, offerings collected at church services; and (8) donations, endowments or other records indicating sources of income. This request for inspection was prompted by the defendants' concern that various financial and property transactions entered into by the pastor and board of deacons had not been properly authorized by the church membership.