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Justices accept church-property dispute

May 31, 2011

The Indiana Supreme Court has agreed to take a case between a Vanderburgh County church and its former national organization dealing with what happens to the local church property after the local church defected to another Presbyterian organization.

The justices granted one transfer for the week of May 27, Presbytery of Ohio Valley Inc., et al. v. OPC Inc., et al., No. 82S02-1105-MF-314. When Olivet Presbyterian Church decided to leave the Presbyterian Church (USA) in 2006 to join Evangelical Presbyterian Church of America, it wanted to keep property it had purchased in 1968. The trial court ruled in favor of Olivet, but the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed.

The appellate court  concluded that because the local congregation was part of the national church organization and accepted the benefits of being a national organization, the local congregation acknowledged in its bylaws that it was bound by the national church constitution and could not amend its bylaws to conflict with that document. The court said the church constitution contains a clause providing that all property titled to local congregations is held in trust for the use and benefit of the national church organization, and that judgment must be entered in favor of the governing judicatory bodies of the national church.

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