In Maryland and Virginia Eldership of the Churches of God v. Church of God at Sharpsburg, 396 U.S. 367 (1970), the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed that in settling church disputes, courts do not raise First Amendment concerns as long as they do not inquire about church doctrine.

Church eldership used courts to resolve property dispute

The case involved an effort by the general eldership of a church to prevent two secessionist congregations from taking church property. Relying on state statutory law relative to religious corporations, language in the deeds, charters, and pertinent provisions in the constitution of the general eldership, the lower courts had resolved the controversy in favor of the secessionists.

Court ruled that a state could resolve church disputes three ways

In an opinion joined by Justices William O. Douglas and Thurgood Marshall and concurring with the Court’s per curiam judgment, Justice William J. Brennan Jr. affirmed that a state could pursue any of three paths in resolving church disputes without inquiry into doctrinal issues.

Send Feedback on this article