A Tennessee court ruled that church members were not legally entitled to inspect certain records of their church on the basis of a provision in the state nonprofit corporation law giving members a right of inspection, since they lacked a "proper purpose" for their request.
The Tennessee nonprofit corporation law specifies that members have a legal right to inspect "accounting records" only if "a demand is made in good faith and for a proper purpose, the member describes with reasonable particularity the purpose and the records the member desires to inspect; and the records are directly connected with the purpose for which the demand is made."
Several members of a church sought to inspect the church's financial records as part of their investigation into financial mismanagement by the pastor and other church leaders. The church resisted this request, arguing that the members' request failed to satisfy all of the conditions required for inspection, and turning over the records would violate the church's constitutional right to freely exercise its religion. The trial court ruled that the members had a proper purpose since they were investigating suspected financial mismanagement, and therefore had a "property interest in the church assets."