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The National Education already own network presents a law in the news with Professor Joseph R. Julan associate dean of the University of Michigan Law School. In this age of changing values and beliefs which at times seems to border on Revolution religion has been no exception. Certainly the Roman Catholic Church is a prime example of a religious entity which in many ways has sought to disassociate itself with that not relevant to the times. There are those who believe the Presbyterian Church of the United States has done this and more. They say the Presbyterian Church has so substantially and radically deviated from the fundamental doctrines and tenants of the Presbyterian faith as to abandon or at least substantially abandon the Presbyterian faith itself. At least this was the finding of a Georgia jury asked to resolve a dispute between two local churches and the general organization. The local churches withdrew from the hierarchy and in the process claimed ownership and control of the local church properties. The national
organization apparently considering this in an charitable act asked a Georgia court to declare that the church property was held in trust for the use and benefit of those members of the church and hearing to the doctrines and regulations of the general church. This position of the general church is based on the principle that a local church is organized according to some hierarchy whole property subject to the authority of the hierarchy of the dom nomination even when legal title is held entirely in the name of the local church. It is clear however that some courts recognize an exception to this doctrine of denominational control where the general church hierarchy departs to radically from the doctrine accepted when the local church is affiliated with the general church. The national organization loses its authority over the local properties and of course that was the GA claim at the trial of the case in question the Georgia judge submitted to a jury. The question of whether the general church actions constituted a substantial abandonment of its original
tenets. It was conceded the local churches had withdrawn from the Presbyterian Church in the United States. But was it not because the hierarchy had so changed the religion as to have left the local congregations in a sense the jury was simply asked to determine who had abandon whom. Perhaps not surprisingly the local jurors found in favor of the local churches and the Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed the general church appealed to the United States Supreme Court oral argument has been heard and we now await the decision. It is a case of considerable significance for it is possible the highest court will define the constitutional limits on a state court's power to decide contests between religious groups each claiming church property. Now the Supreme Court has spoken on this general subject of the role of courts in resolving religious disputes between contesting factions. The court's pronouncement is now almost 100 years old perhaps for that reason alone its relevance to nine thousand nine hundred nine is subject to question in
1871 the United States Supreme Court said that the civil courts cannot consider questions of religious doctrine in deciding disputes between competing religious groups. Instead the courts should accept the decision of whatever body the competing groups had previously accepted as a controlling authority in subsequent decisions however the state courts have carved out the exception which the local Georgia courts churches hope will enable them to prevail. That exceptional role is where a given church was no part of a hierarchy. There was nobody other than the majority of the congregation which the groups accepted as controlling. In this situation if the majority had sought to accomplish some fundamental deviation from the church's basic tenants the minorities right to the church property would be upheld. You see the majority can't walk away from the religion and keep the church. In these cases the court must of course consider religious factors. Most hierarchy all denominations have their own court structure to decide local disputes. It's not just a vote of the majority that
rules but here the courts can accept the decision of the Ecclesiastical tribunals assuming thereby adequate protection of the minority exists and thereby avoid the difficult questions inherent in disputes over religious tenets. But should not the abandonment exception be applicable even to the hierarchy with an ecclesiastical court structure if it abandons the basic religious tenets. Even though this involves ruling on religious tenants the Georgia Supreme Court believes so and the unit knighted state Supreme Court is being asked to so rule. Oh yes I should of course mention the specific charges of the local churches used to support the claim that the Presbyterian Church in the United States has left the Presbyterian religion. They are that the doctrine afford a nation has been abandon that the church has authorized ordination of women as ministers and ruling elders. But the church is supported actively certain civil rights programs has approved a policy statement on Vietnam and probably most important has approved participating in acts of civil disobedience.
Law in the news
Churches and the law
Producing Organization
University of Michigan
National Association of Educational Broadcasters
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
Program number 396 focuses on churches and the law.
Series Description
This series focuses on current news stories that relate to the law.
Broadcast Date
Public Affairs
Politics and Government
Media type
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Producing Organization: University of Michigan
Producing Organization: National Association of Educational Broadcasters
Speaker: Julin, Joseph R.
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 61-35a-396 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:05:37
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Chicago: “Law in the news; Churches and the law,” 1969-01-23, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed January 27, 2023,
MLA: “Law in the news; Churches and the law.” 1969-01-23. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. January 27, 2023. <>.
APA: Law in the news; Churches and the law. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from