Court to hear church case

MANCHESTER - A request made by the Board of Elders, the governing body of the First Congregational Church, to dismiss the case between them and members of the church's congregation, was denied late last month.

The question that came before the court was if deciding the church members claims violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Out of the six claims filed as part of the lawsuit, the court decided that settling four of the counts would pose little risk of becoming excessively entangled with religion, according to the decision on the motions filed to dismiss and/or for summary judgment.

In order to resolve the issue in the other two counts, the court would have to decide whether or not the establishment of the Board of Elders caused a change in governance structure that was inconsistent with the bylaws. On those, the court decided to hear evidence and render a ruling.

"The court concludes that resolving that question will not require the court to pass judgment on any of the acts undertaken by the Board of Elders since its creation, or examine the details of each of the board's actions," the decision states. "The court's resolution of these claims will require only a determination of whether the creation of the board conflicted with the church bylaws, and will not involve and inquiry into the specific acts undertaken by the board since its creation."

One of the counts alleges that the creation of the Board of Elders was in violation of the church's bylaws and due to that all the actions they have taken have been unauthorized. The other claimed that the Board of Elders was not authorized to spend money on behalf of the church and that in so doing they had violated the Uniform Prudent Management of Institutional Funds Act.

The actions the board members objected to in particular are the hiring of a new reverend, the dismissal of the church secretary, providing the church music director with a pension and health care benefits and spending money from the endowment fund - which was created by the church bylaws - in excess of the 5 percent spending limit.

The other claims made by the church members in the lawsuit were that they were denied access to the church membership list and to church records, that the Board of Elders gave insufficient notice of an amendment to the church bylaws and that improper notice was given to the church membership by the board for a Special Meeting that was held on July 31, 2011.

When contacted, the attorney for the Board of Elders, Robert Woolmington, declined to comment on what action he may take on behalf of his client.


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