Trespassing on religious territory

Will the Courts get involved in religious disputes? The High Court has recently confirmed (in Brady v The Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand [2012] NZHC 3526 at [50] and [57], Doogue AJ) the conventional wisdom that: “… The Courts have long recognised that the constitution of a religious body, as a consensual compact binding on the conscience of the individual members, and its provisions, are without contractual force and, with certain limited exceptions, are not justiciable in a civil court.” Further, “… the various authorities that I have referred to make it clear that the voluntary nature of the church, particularly when coupled with the additional feature that the case is concerned with matters involving faith and doctrine, mean that the Courts are reluctant to intervene where no property or monetary interest or something of that kind is at stake.” The implications of the religious entity being incorporated or unincorporated In Brady, the Court considered whether it should entertain a claim brought by members of a church congregation against individuals controlling Church premises. The judgment considered two inter-related issues; the implications arising from the fact that the Church was not incorporated, and the approach that the courts traditionally take to intervening in the affairs of Churches. The Church congregation and the various officeholders of that Church were unincorporated individuals, and not parties to the litigation. The first defendant (the Presbyterian Church in New Zealand) was incorporated and therefore able to be the object of Court proceedings, while the second defendant was an unincorporated governance group of the Presbyterian Church. The Court concluded that it “was not open to...

Use of modern technology by societies

Modern technology? Some readers of this column will, like me, be old enough to remember when meetings started with the laborious reading of the minutes of the previous meeting; with the reader often struggling to read his or her own handwriting. Happily, times have changed, with most minutes typed and pre-circulated. The uptake of even more modern technology such as emails and on-line polls has been slower, but the technologically ill-equipped seem to be in an ever decreasing minority. A modern society constitution should, as a minimum provide for email advice of meetings and their business, and with proposals to reduce postal deliveries from 6 days a week many constitutions will be due for further review (hopefully also considering the implications of my earlier article “What does a “Clear Day” mean?”). Whether or not and how to use modern means of communications are key issues for societies seeking to remain relevant in serving their members. An Australian adviser with a “consultancy service specialising in sponsorship, membership and turnarounds for associations, charities and other non-profit organisations,” examines a question – “Membership is dead?” at http://www.smsonline.net.au/pages/membership-is-dead.html. She summarises the issue: “A number of powerful generational, cultural and economic forces are colliding to create a perfect storm that will make the next 5-20 years some of the toughest ever faced by associations. Associations who don’t adapt face a slow decline into obscurity as they are replaced by newer, more innovative, less bureaucratically challenged, less change resistant competitors. While the idea of membership will continue, the antiquated models of recruiting, retaining and engaging members cannot survive in an increasingly challenging and ever-changing operating...