Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
Is a Church Obligated to Share Member Records?
State nonprofit corporation law may override protection of privacy.

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 Texas court ruled that persons who have been dismissed from membership in a church no longer have a right under the state nonprofit corporation law to inspect church records.

A married couple (the "plaintiffs") became increasingly dissatisfied with various ecclesiastical and secular church policies, including how the church handled its finances. The plaintiffs requested access to the church's financial books and records pursuant to a provision in the state nonprofit corporation law giving members a right to inspect corporate books and records. Their main concern was how the church had disposed of a donation they made to the church's building fund a few years earlier. In particular, they wanted to determine if the church had spent their designated donation for some other purpose.

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Posted: November 1, 2011
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