Thursday, January 08, 2015

Synagogue Board Improperly Denied Congregational Vote On Rabbi's Retention

In Kamchi v. Weissman, (NY App., Dec. 31, 2014), a New York state appellate court interpreted the provisions of New York's Religious Corporation Law that apply to synagogues as giving wide authority to the congregational membership.  At issue was the synagogue Board of Trustee's refusal to permit a congregation-wide vote on renewal or extension of the rabbi's employment contract after the Board decided not to extend or renew it.  Members of the congregation and its ousted rabbi sued seeking a declaratory judgement that their rights had been violated and damages for tortious interference with prospective economic relations and defamation. The court held that the the congregation's authority is governed by NYRCL Sec. 200 that provides:
A corporate meeting of an incorporated church, whose trustees are elective as such, may give directions, not inconsistent with law, as to the manner in which any of the temporal affairs of the church shall be administered by the trustees thereof; and such directions shall be followed by the trustees. The trustees of an incorporated church to which this article is applicable, shall have no power to settle or remove or fix the salary of the minister....
The court held that the Board,  by refusing to allow the Congregation to act, usurped the Congregation’s authority. It also held that the trial court should not have dismissed the rabbi's defamation claim. [Thanks to Jeff Pasek for the lead.]