Few churches use arbitration clauses in membership agreements, or even have formal membership agreements. In the private business sector, an arbitration agreement remains in effect in perpetuity regarding claims arising during the tenure of the contract between the parties. Events after the termination or expiration of the contract would not be subject to most arbitration provisions in most contracts. Efforts to bootstrap an arbitration clause to events arising after contract termination are generally unsuccessful because the agreement to arbitrate terminated with the contract.
In Bixler v Superior Court, Slip Op. (Cal. App. 2022), the church Defendants moved for an order compelling arbitration of the Plaintiff’s court claims. The trial court refused to order arbitration because the claims allegedly arose after the Plaintiffs terminated their membership in the church. The plaintiffs claimed that the church engaged in stalking and other acts of defamation and vandalism to terrorize the Plaintiffs. The Plaintiffs alleged the church was attempting to silence the Plaintiffs to end their claims of sexual misconduct by other members. The appellate court affirmed and held that the Constitutional right of freedom of religion encompassed the right to leave a religion and otherwise extinguish church membership. Once membership was extinguished, the contract for religious services was terminated. The arbitration clause did not survive the termination of the contract. Further, the arbitration clause while potentially enforceable in perpetuity as to events during the membership of the members, was not enforceable as to events after termination of the contract by termination of the church membership. The case was remanded for further proceedings in court.
Churches may wish to use arbitration agreements with their own service providers or with persons to whom they provide services, such as day care, schools and other parachurch activities. But, events arising after the termination of the relationship will not be subject to the arbitration provision.