Pastor, Church & Law

Church Property

Chapter 7

There are many legal issues associated with church property. This chapter addresses several of them. For example, assume that a schism occurs in a local church and a dispute arises over ownership of the church’s property. How do the civil courts resolve such a case? Which group will be awarded ownership of the property? Another important issue is the application of local zoning laws to religious congregations. Zoning laws specify the permitted uses of property within a community, and these laws sometimes conflict with a church’s desire to use property for church purposes. Similarly, most communities have enacted building codes. To what extent do they apply to church buildings? Many communities have enacted “landmarking” ordinances that prohibit historic properties from being demolished or modified without approval. Do such laws apply to historic church buildings? For example, assume that a city designates a church as an historic landmark, and rejects the church’s request to expand its building to accommodate a growing membership. Does the city have this authority? What about the church’s constitutional right to freely exercise its religion?

Other issues addressed in this chapter include title to church property; conveyances of church property; embezzlement of church funds; reversionary and dissolution clauses; restrictive covenants; materialmen’s liens; liability for injuries occurring on church property; criminal liability for defacing church property; discrimination in the sale or rental of church property; eminent domain; and the removal of disruptive persons from church services. Most churches will face at least some of these issues, and so a familiarity with this chapter is important.

This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is sold with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations." Due to the nature of the U.S. legal system, laws and regulations constantly change. The editors encourage readers to carefully search the site for all content related to the topic of interest and consult qualified local counsel to verify the status of specific statutes, laws, regulations, and precedential court holdings.

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