Houses of worship and related entities make choices in setting up their institutional structure that have significant implications for the way in which they will be governed internally, and for the relationship they will have with the government and other entities. Some of these choices are limited by statute; others are within the client’s complete discretion. Experienced counsel can guide clients in choosing the institutional setting that will work best for them.
Operating in accordance with its governing documents and adopting basic good-governance policies may protect a religious institution from significant liabilities and challenges from members, third parties and governmental authorities. As clergy and members step down from positions of responsibility, having a proper governance structure in place provides guidance for those succeeding them as to how the institution’s affairs should be conducted.
Lay leadership and clergy have roles in the governance of most religious institutions which may be shaped by state statutes, denominational Books of Order, individual charters and, of course, employment agreements. Lawyers can help guide their religious institution clients in drafting organizational documents that reflect an appropriate balance of power and authority.
Our attorneys have represented clients in the following representative matters:
- Represented a clergyman in intra-congregational dispute after its board of directors voted to terminate his employment, resulting in reversal by congregation and reinstatement of clergyman.
- Incorporated religious institutions and obtained tax exemptions.
- Represented religious institutions in employment termination of key staff members.
- Advised religious institutions on revisions to charter documents and drafted bylaws.
- Advised religious institutions and represented their interests with state authorities concerning corporate mergers of religious institutions.
- Conducted week-long trial in state court over governance of religious institution, and argued appeal raising issues of first impression concerning nature and powers of de facto trustees.