Thursday, March 16, 2017

Appeals Court OK's Court-Ordered Meeting of Church Members

In Hawkins v. St. John Missionary Baptist Church of Bakersfield, California, (CA App., March 15, 2017), a California state appellate court upheld a trial court's determination that it could use neutral principles of state non-profit corporation law to order a church's Board of Deacons to call a meeting of members to vote on whether to remove the church's pastor. The appeals court said in part:
[T]he court may apply neutral principles of law based on the church’s own constitution, bylaws and rules, and relevant California statutes.... Thus, a court may determine whether an election in which a pastor was removed was properly conducted according to the church’s bylaws, rules and regulations. In other words, the court may assist the church in acting within its proper sphere under its own rules and regulations to protect civil and property rights.
At the meeting, overseen by a court-appointed referee, those favoring removal of the pastor prevailed by 1 vote. The appeals court concluded that the referee had wrongly excluded the votes of 3 members, and remanded the case for the trial court to redetermine the election results after counting those votes.