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Church and Canon Law

Helping Religious Institutions Effectively Resolve Disputes

Churches struggle with many of the same issues that nonreligious organizations face. However, church and religious organizations face unique challenges in the resolution of legal matters. Typically, a combination of cannon, statutory and case law guides the process.

Our team has significant experience in cannon and church law. We have helped numerous churches throughout the country develop positive resolutions to their disputes both internally within the church and externally with non-church parties.

Legal Bases for Church-Related Matters

Our lawyers have devoted substantial resources to studying and understanding the voluminous bodies of law that affect church issues. A typical church-related case involves laws from various sources that may include:

  • First Amendment Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution
  • Case law dating back to the 1800s regarding religious institutions
  • Contract laws when the terms of an agreement affect a dispute
  • Property laws when property ownership and interests are in dispute
  • Building codes or other regulations related to disputed church property, especially one that is landmarked or declared to have historical or cultural value
  • Ecclesiastical authority of the churches engaged in a dispute
  • Civil procedures of the jurisdiction in which the dispute occurs
  • Other laws related to the specific incident at issue in a given case

Complicating the issue is determining which law takes precedence when we encounter conflicting bodies of law.

Resolving Church Disputes

Our attorneys handle a variety of internal and external church conflicts. For example, when church members decide to form their own organization, questions of property ownership may arise. In some instances, a class action may be appropriate to resolve the matter fairly.

Beyond strict legal doctrine, our clients often have spiritual reasons for pursuing a legal case. Our attorneys consider these spiritual aspects as we develop a legal strategy and we work closely with church leaders to ensure our decisions comply with the principles of the church. We respect the church’s creeds as well as the laws that provide our clients with legal remedies.

Often, our ecclesiastical clients seek the least confrontational methods for settling a disagreement. We are usually able to reach equitable settlements on these claims through mediation and other appropriate dispute resolution methods. However, we candidly advise our clients when litigation is likely the only way to achieve the desired results. The church is then able to make an informed decision about pursuing the claim.

Learn More About Church-Related Dispute Resolution

Speights & Runyan has the experience in cannon and church laws to advise religious organizations about dispute resolution. Call our firm at (803) 943-4444 or toll-free at (800) 348-3805 or contact us online to schedule a consultation about church-related legal matters.