Churches can develop management conflicts that require to restore peace the removal of a church officer. If a church is incorporated, it may have several officers. In some states, a non-profit corporation must have trustees in addition to other officers, although trustees may also hold some other office, too. A church association may also adopt a constitution and bylaws that, like other corporate governance documents, create offices with specific duties. Most church governance documents, regardless of type or source, provide for removal of a church officer.
In Islamic Center of Passaic, Inc. v Salahuddin, the founding Imam died. His widow was the church financial director. She may have been under the mistaken impression that the founding Imam owned the church property, including its financial accounts, which she had faithfully managed and accounted for during many years, and that she inherited his ownership interest. However, the belief was mistaken. Further, two years after the founding Imam passed, the church adopted a constitution and the widow signed. A new Imam was engaged by the church and no conflict arose for a period of time. However, a successor Imam was engaged and a conflict arose between the widow and the new Imam. The widow refused to allow the new Imam to become a signatory on church accounts. After the accounts were frozen the widow opened a new account to which only she had access and continued to collect the lease payments due to the church from its tenant. There was no suggestion of defalcation. The widow twice changed the locks on the church to lock out the new Imam and prevented daily worship services. Police intervention was required. The church filed a lawsuit against the widow seeking a declaration that the church terminated the widow as financial director in compliance with the church governance documents among which was the constitution the widow signed. Applying neutral principles of law after a three day bench trial the trial court confirmed the termination. The appellate court affirmed.
Failure to have a written succession plan that included disposition of the widow’s interests set the stage for conflict resulting in an expensive resolution. Indeed, the opinion indicated the church may have spent money on a mediator, too. A three day bench trial and the attendant legal fees for preparation was no doubt a memorable expense. The church did, however, adopt a constitution after the founding Imam passed away. That governance document, and possibly others, permitted a court to resolve the dispute. Governance documents are usually amenable to Neutral Principles of Law interpretation and enforcement.