Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Court May Decide Church Affiliation Dispute

In Ohio District Council, Inc. of the Assemblies of God v. Speelman, (OH App., Feb. 29, 2016), an Ohio state appeals court held that the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine does not prevent civil courts from adjudicating the validity of action by a local church, known as Christian Assembly, disaffiliating itself from Assemblies of God and instead merging with (and transferring its property to) Fellowship of Praise Church of God.  After Christian Assembly took this action, Assemblies of God adopted a resolution declaring that it still had jurisdiction over the church and purporting to remove its pastor Dennis Speelman.  In holding that the trial court can decide the dispute, the appeals court said in part:
A judicial determination with respect to the significance of Christian Assembly’s affiliation involves no ecclesiastical issues. Here, the parties have presented evidence of constitutions, by-laws, applications for affiliation, as well as ample testimony regarding the structure of the presbytery. The resolution of that matter does not involve the weighing of any controversies concerning religious doctrines, tenets, or practices....
The trial court was not called upon to determine whether Speelman should be pastor or to determine matters of religious concern. Rather, the trial court was called upon to determine which body was authorized to make those determinations and to defer to the determination of the authorized body.