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Members' Right to Inspect Church Records

Members may inspect records only if they have a “proper purpose” for doing so.


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 ...

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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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  • November 1, 2011

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