Court Ruled It Was Proper to Inquire Whether a Congregational Meeting Was Preceded by Adequate Notice to the Full Membership

For many years, two factions within a local Baptist church had been at war with

For many years, two factions within a local Baptist church had been at war with each other. Ultimately, the dissident minority was collectively expelled from membership. The expelled members continued to attend services, and frequently interrupted the pastor, sang, and engaged in disturbances that made the conduct of peaceful services impossible. The church sought a court order prohibiting the dissidents from disrupting or interfering with church services.

The dissidents, in response, asserted that the meeting at which the congregation voted to expel them had not been called with adequate notice; that the constitution and bylaws were invalid since they had been adopted at the same meeting; and that the pastor had appointed the church trustees without congregational approval. The dissidents also demanded an accounting of all church funds.

The trial court held that the meeting at which the dissidents had been expelled and at which the church constitution and bylaws had been adopted was invalid due to inadequate notice. It also scheduled an election at which the congregation would determine, by majority vote, the proper membership of the church; prescribed the notice to be given; provided for the counting of ballots by a court officer; and ordered an accounting of all church funds.

The Alabama Supreme Court upheld the decision of the trial court, noting that "it is proper for the courts to inquire whether a congregational meeting, at which church business is to be transacted, was preceded by adequate notice to the full membership, and whether, once called, the meeting was conducted in an orderly manner and the expulsion was the act of the authority within the church having the power to order it." However, "once the court is presented with sufficient evidence regarding the regularity of the meeting, it will then generally refuse to inquire further as to the fruits of the meeting." McKinney v. Twenty-fifth Avenue Baptist Church, Inc., 514 So.2d 837 (Ala. 1987)

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