Religious Corporation Law

Religious Corporations are unique entities such as churches and synagogues with which the attorneys of Weiss & Weiss are familiar. Entities created for religious purposes may wish to determine whether to organize or dissolve pursuant to the Religious Corporation Law of the State of New York. Should a faith organization elect to organize as a religious entity, our attorneys are well versed in the filing requirements of New York State. Although religious corporations may sell, mortgage or lease the real property that they own, there are specific legal guidelines that are mandated to be followed, such as approval of the Attorney General's Office and potentially the Supreme Court of the County in which the property is located. Our firm has vast experience in preparing the required Petition and associated documents necessary to obtain approval of such real estate transactions and in serving the relevant parties such as the Attorney General of the State of New York. We are also prepared to advise our religious corporation clients with respect to the investment laws and rules for acquisition of property as necessary.

Political situations and infighting with trustees of religious corporations and their clergy are not uncommon situations encountered by our attorneys. Our firm has litigated matters in which dissident “factions” of a congregation have brought litigation questioning all aspects of the management of the religious organization, including the validity of the most recent Trustee election. Our firm was able to resolve this litigation by organizing a new election in compliance with a Court order from Supreme Court, Westchester County. In this meeting, we arranged for an independent moderator to regulate the election in keeping with the terms of the Judge’s order. This allowed for the new election to go forward with the approval of all parties.

Generally, under New York State’s Religious Corporation Law, the trustee board is responsible for managing all business aspects of the institution. However, in practice, there is often friction between the trustee board and the clergy of the institution. Our firm has been able to resolve disputes which may arise regarding the business management between clergy and the trustee board.

We are also prepared to negotiate agreements with or on behalf of clergy when a dispute has arisen with the religious congregation, or when a congregation engages the services of new clergy. We have represented clergy in litigation when the terms of their contract with the congregation have been violated. Although we prefer not to litigate such matters, in certain cases, sometimes it is necessary to bring the matter before a Judge in order to achieve the desired result.

Our participation in the drafting of merger agreements between two congregations may be necessary to protect the interests, assets and religious artifacts of both congregations.

At times, the Religious Corporation Law defers to the laws of a particular religious denomination. Our attorneys are sensitive to the distinctions between religious denominations. Further, our attorneys are knowledgeable with respect to the requirements for the conduct of congregational meetings. We draft documents that comply with legal notice requirements, tabulate proxies that we draft and conduct congregational meetings at which elections of trustees are held. This reduces the possibility of a legal challenge to the authority of the trustee board in the future.

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