Legal liability of the members of an unincorporated church?

by Andy Weaver (missionary)
(Aguascalientes, Mexico)

I've heard that if someone sues a church for wrong doing, that all of the members can be sued if the church is not incorporated. Whereas if the church is incorporated, the individual members cannot be sued, only the church can be sued. Is that true?

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Limited liability for unincorporated churches
by: Admin

Thanks for your important question. Keep in mind that we do not give legal advice, but we do share protected opinions under our right to assemble peaceably.

Anyone can file a suit against anyone for anything.

But for the suit to go forward, the person must be an injured party and the injury would have to be directly related to some form of culpability on the part of the church. There are thousands of examples to illustrate this.

Incorporating makes the church a creature of the state, but it does limit liability, maybe. The corporation is an artificial 'person' and must act accordingly. So, if all of the administrative ceremonies are not followed, a litigant can pierce the corporate veil and sue the members personally. Non-profits are often very loosely run corporations which makes them vulnerable.

If you are a creature of the state, you must follow all state requirements in return for the state limiting your personal liability.

As a creature of the state a corporation does not have a conscience; it must simply do what the state requires. There is case law that shows a church was forced against its will to retain a homosexual youth minister. Another, claiming to be an agent of God, not of the state, was forced to act as an uncompensated agent of the IRS. The church refused and lost the church building.

If a church actually engages in wrongdoing, then it should pay the price period. If the church wants to protect itself from frivolous lawsuits then it might have a written and signed members' agreement that lays out the limits of the congregation's liability.

Unfortunately, you cannot rely on attorneys to do this for you. Attorneys are creatures of the state and officers of the court and, according to their legal encyclopedia, the Corpus Juris Secundum, they are duty-bound to work in the best interest of the court not your best interests (but that is another discussion).

If you do decide on a members' agreement about liability, it must be constructed in truth, honor and plain common sense, not in the trappy language of legal land.

Giving NOTICE also limits liability. E.g. "This store is not responsible for damage to vehicles by shopping carts". Or, "CAUTION Wet Floor"

We did not attempt to solve your problem, only to help you think about how you might solve it.

Hoped we helped to do that.

All the best

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