December 3, 2007

Church Property Disputes

Religion Clause blog which regularly addresses legal issues in the larger world of religion, points us to an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on the legal issues faced by the state courts on churches threatening to break away from their parent bodies.

Read the blog article. Read the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article.

The Post-Gazette article shares this bit of history:

In 1979 the U.S. Supreme Court gave state courts the option of using legal documents such as deeds to determine who kept the property, as long as this did not require them to interpret religious tenets. This is called the "neutral principles" approach.

But those justices added that a denomination could protect its property claims by writing into its constitution that "the church property is held in trust for the general church and those who remain loyal to it." Many denominations did so.

The Church of the Brethren is among those denominations which includes such a statement in its constitution:

Many congregations own property to aid in teaching and disseminating the gospel of Jesus Christ according to the beliefs, practices, and doctrines of the Church of the Brethren as set forth and promulgated from time to time by Annual Conference. For the sake of uniformity and continuity in the ownership of Church of the Brethren property, all property held by or for the use of a congregation, whether legal title is lodged in a corporation, a trustee or trustees, an unincorporated association or any other capacity, and whether the property is used in programs of the congregation or retained for the production of income, is held, in trust, nevertheless, for the use and benefit of the Church of the Brethren. Polity Manual, Chapeter VI.