Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
Court Intervention in Church Legal Disputes
If religious doctrine is involved, courts typically won't intervene in governance disputes.

Key point 6-12.4. Most courts refuse to intervene in church disputes concerning the validity of a membership meeting that was not conducted in accordance with the procedural requirements specified in the church's governing documents. However, some courts are willing to intervene in such disputes if they can do so without inquiring into religious doctrine or polity.

A Texas appeals court ruled that it was barred by the "ecclesiastical abstention doctrine" from resolving a lawsuit brought by former church members alleging that the church failed to follow its bylaws in various respects. Former members of a church (the "plaintiffs") sued the church and its trustees (the "defendants") alleging that they breached their obligations to the plaintiffs, as members of the church, by failing to conduct elections for trustees; improperly conducting general meetings without a quorum; adopting amendments to the bylaws in violation of those bylaws; disenfranchising numerous members of the church who were critical of the trustees' policies and procedures; refusing to allow these disenfranchised members to participate in meetings and refusing to provide them copies of church documents; establishing a mandatory monthly membership fee of $30; refusing to honor the members' petitions to call special meetings or place matters on the agenda for other meetings; and altering the trustee-nomination procedure and committee-appointment process so that only persons appointed by them could be eligible for appointment.

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Posted: July 1, 2012
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