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Church Disaffiliation Property Dispute

Court rules that national church holds title to local church’s property.

Key Point 7-03.2 Some courts apply the "compulsory deference" rule in resolving disputes over the ownership and control of property in "hierarchical" churches. Under this rule, the civil courts defer to the determinations of denominational agencies in resolving such disputes.

A California appeals court ruled that a national church held title to the property of a local church that had voted to disaffiliate. A local Episcopal church voted to disaffiliate from the national church in 2004 and take the local church property with it. The church amended its articles of incorporation to delete all references to the national church. A majority of the congregation voted to support the decision, but a minority of 12 members voted against it. The national church, along with other plaintiffs, filed a lawsuit in which they asked a court to rule that the local church property was held in trust for the local ...

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Richard R. Hammar is an attorney, CPA and author specializing in legal and tax issues for churches and clergy.

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Posted:
  • January 1, 2008