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Document Stating Affiliated-Denomination Properties Were Owned by Denomination Is Not Enforceable

Indiana Supreme Court says PCUSA trust law clashed with Indiana trust law, gives ownership of church building to local church.

Indiana
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Key point 7-03.3. Most courts apply the "neutral principles of law" rule in resolving disputes over the ownership and control of property in "hierarchical" churches. Under this rule, the civil courts apply neutral principles of law, involving no inquiry into church doctrine, in resolving church property disputes. Generally, this means applying neutral legal principles to nondoctrinal language in any one or more of the following documents: (1) deeds to church property; (2) a church's corporate charter; (3) a state law addressing the resolution of church property disputes; (4) church bylaws; or (5) a parent denomination's bylaws.

The Indiana Supreme Court ruled that a provision in a denomination's governing document stating that the properties of all affiliated churches were held in trust for the denomination was not enforceable. In 1900, a church affiliated with a predecessor to the Presbyterian ...

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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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  • December 17, 2013

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