Key point 9-07. The First Amendment allows civil courts to resolve internal church disputes so long as they can do so without interpreting doctrine or polity.
* A Louisiana court ruled that the First Amendment guaranty of religious freedom did not prevent it from resolving a lawsuit brought by former board members of a church seeking redress for the pastor's financial mismanagement. A church's governing board (its "board of deacons") passed a resolution calling for the pastor's termination. In response, the pastor called a special meeting of the congregation to elect a new board of deacons. At the meeting, the pastor's slate of proposed deacons was elected and the dissidents were voted off the board. The dissidents filed a lawsuit claiming that the pastor had mismanaged church property and had misused church funds by, among other things, using church funds for his own personal gain. The dissidents also alleged that the pastor had destroyed some of the church's financial records in order to conceal his wrongdoing.
The dissidents asked the court to issue an order (1) barring the pastor from accessing any of the church's financial records; (2) freezing the disposition church property pending a hearing; (3) calling for an accounting of the church's bank accounts from the time that the pastor gained control over the accounts; (4) appointing a trustee to protect and preserve church property; (5) holding the pastor liable for any expenditures of church funds that were not related to church business; (6) ordering the pastor to comply with the subpoena; and (7) requiring the pastor to resign.