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...