Religious Corporations and the Law

This article will attempt to present a picture of the legal status of religious organizations, with particular reference to the enjoyment of the corporate privilege. Necessarily, this will involve at the outset an historical review tracing the development of that status, beginning with the practice of granting special charters to churches and culminating in the now familiar general incorporation statute. Special attention will be paid to distinctive problems that arose in Utah, Pennsylvania, and Virginia concerning corporate status. The historical review is followed by a summary survey of the current state laws relating to the incorporation of churches. The last section deals with questions that the granting and conditioning of corporate status for churches and the applicability of corporation laws to church bodies may raise under the religion clauses of the first amendment.