Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
Court Intervention in Church Legal Disputes
Courts will not resolve disputes that involve church doctrine.

Key point 6-06.1. Churches select their officers and directors in various ways. For example, it is common for members of a church board to be elected by the church's membership, while officers are elected by the board. The civil courts generally refrain from resolving disputes involving the selection of church officers and directors on the ground that the First Amendment guaranty of religious freedom prevents them from becoming involved in ecclesiastical disputes.

Key point 6-10.1. According to the majority view, the civil courts will not resolve disputes challenging a church's discipline of a member since the First Amendment guaranty of religious freedom prevents them from deciding who are members in good standing of a church.

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 Florida court ruled that it was barred by the First Amendment guaranty of religious freedom from resolving an internal dispute involving an interpretation of a church's articles of incorporation and bylaws, and applicable state nonprofit corporation law, because it could not do so without inquiring into religious doctrine. A church's articles of incorporation provided for a seven-member board of directors to manage the "affairs of the corporation," and director elections were to occur "annually at a meeting of the members of the corporation to be held without notice on the last Wednesday night of September each year." The articles of incorporation further specified that "the bylaws of this corporation shall be made, altered, amended or rescinded by the board of directors of this corporation."

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