Recent Developments in Georgia Regarding Church Elections

The Supreme Court of Georgia ruled that members of a “congregational” church could not challenge their expulsion in civil court since membership in such a church is not a property right.

Church Law and Tax1998-03-01

Church Membership

Key point. It is the view of some courts that members of a “congregational” church have no legal right to sue their church for exclusion from membership.

The Supreme Court of Georgia ruled that members of a “congregational” church could not challenge their expulsion in civil court since membership in such a church is not a property right. A church dismissed certain members, and these individuals later sued the church’s board members claiming that their dismissal was improper. The court, in dismissing the lawsuit, observed:

[C]ivil courts have no jurisdiction to inquire into and to control the acts of the governing authority of a religious organization undertaken with reference to its internal affairs. It is undisputed that [the church] has a congregational form of government. Membership in a congregational church is not a property right. Since membership in [such a church] is not a property right, the validity of the exclusion of the members of [the church] from membership … is conclusive upon the civil courts, whether in the opinion of the judges of those courts, the decision appears to be right or wrong. Anderson v. Dowd, 485 S.E.2d 764 (Ga. 1997). [ Discipline and Dismissal of Church Members]

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