South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Courts Have Limited Jurisdiction over Matters of Religious Disputes
Description Georgia high court held that a trial court was wrong to grant injunctive relief to complaining members of a church by ordering an election to determine who would be pastor of the church. The court had no subject matter jurisdiction over such a religious matter.
Topic Court Procedure
Key Words Subject Matter Jurisdiction; Equity; Religious Organizations
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts A dispute arose among members of a church regarding who should serve as pastor. Barton and others filed suit, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against Bolden and others. The trial court held a hearing on the matter and, in granting injunctive relief, ordered an election to determine whether Bolden should continue as the church pastor. The trial court specified criteria that had to be met to qualify for participation in the election. Barton appealed the trial court order, which is directly appealable as a grant of mandatory injunctive relief.
Decision

Reversed. A court of equity will not interfere with the internal affairs of a religious organization when no property rights are involved. The complaint failed to invoke the trial court's jurisdiction over a civil, as opposed to an ecclesiastical, matter. Civil courts have no jurisdiction in such matters and cannot take jurisdiction of them. Subject matter jurisdiction cannot be waived.

Citation Bolden v. Barton, 607 S.E.2d 889 (Sup. Ct., Ga., 2005)

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