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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:William Lacy, a member of the Williams Temple Church of God in Christ, in the Houston area, made a written request through his attorney to examine and copy some of the church’s financial records. Lacy’s request was made pursuant to the Texas Non-Profit Corporation Act, which provides that a non-profit corporation must keep “correct and complete books and records of account,” and that a member of the group has the right “on written demand stating the purpose of the demand . . . at any reasonable time, for any proper purpose” to examine and copy the books and records. Though the church initially agreed to hand over the records, it then denied Lacy’s request. Lacy filed a declaratory judgment action against the church, alleging violations of the act. The church filed a motion to dismiss on the basis that the court was without subject matter jurisdiction because review by a court would improperly involve matters of ecclesiastical governance. The trial court dismissed. Lacy appeals. HOLDING:Reversed and remanded. The court reviews the dismissal as it would a plea to the jurisdiction. The court sets out the bases for the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine; that, so as not to offend the First Amendment’s separation of church and state, civil courts may not intrude on a church’s governance of religious or ecclesiastical matters, “such as theological controversy, church discipline, ecclesiastical government, or the conformity of members to standards of morality.” Churches are not immune to civil actions, however, based on rules that govern civil, contract or property rights, just as with any other societal entity. Therefore, a court can apply neutral principles of law for resolving church disputes that do not involve consideration of doctrinal matters. The court rejects the church’s contention that its financial records are matters of internal ecclesiastical governing, which they say is because the bishop decides when disclosure is appropriate. Lacy is not seeking records dealing with the relationship of the church to its clergy or its congregation; instead he seeks financial records under provisions of a neutral principles of law. “Further, we are not being called upon to interpret any Church constitution, by-laws, or other governing documents. In fact, there are no documents in the record indicating how or by whom the Church is governed. Moreover, we are not asked to decide matters relating to the hierarchical or congregational nature of the Church.” The court notes that it can find no other state court rulings on the same subject. And the court acknowledges that a dispute may arise regarding the church’s finances, but the issue is not now before the court. OPINION:Guzman, J.; Edelman, Frost and Guzman, JJ.

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