When a church split spills into the street it is always interesting to see which issue the contestants chose to take into the courthouse.  Typically, the contestants will pick issues that are emotionally charged but which they lack fundamental evidence to substantiate.  Membership roll qualification and verification is usually the most needed but the least well documented in a church split.  The old guard seems to feel the need to prove their voting eligibility the least as if some sort of presumption will carry their claims.  The challengers to the old order usually have the better documentation of membership either because their memberships are the more recent or they planned it that way.

In Queens Branch of the Bhuvaneshwar Mandir, Inc. v Jagraine Sherman, 2017 NY Slip Op 08546 (NY App Div 2nd 2017) the opinion does not indicate which group was the old guard and which was the challenger.  However, the battle for control of the church was settled by an election and the court was asked to confirm the outcome of the election.  The disgruntled party alleged a substantial number of the ballots were cast by persons not qualified to vote or not qualified to be members.  Without discussing specifics, the court concluded there was inadequate proof to support the claim.

Non-existent or poorly documented membership rolls may make a church election impossible to challenge.  The church organizational documents should specify membership eligibility requirements.  The church organizational documents should specify the electoral process.  There should be church organizational documents in the first place, e.g., bylaws.  When a dispute arises it is not uncommon to ask a church to provide the organizational documents only to be told the church cannot determine which version is the latest or whether it is complete, if it can be located at all.

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