UMC Request Denied

Keep the Bible

UMC Request Denied

The Supreme Court of Alabama in Montgomery, Alabama 

Wikimedia Commons/Michael Barera 

The Alabama Supreme Court has rejected a request from a United Methodist Church conference to kill a lawsuit filed by a megachurch trying to secure the rights to its church property as it disaffiliates from the denomination. 

In a decision Friday, Alabama's highest court rejected a petition to dismiss the lawsuit filed by Harvest Church of Dothan in 2022 against the UMC Alabama-West Florida Conference in hopes of legally securing the rights to its property. 

Associate Justice Greg Cook authored the decision, arguing that, despite the UMC's claim that a secular court should not tackle the church dispute, "it is undisputed that civil courts do have jurisdiction to resolve church-property disputes."

"Under this Court's well-established precedent, then, civil courts can properly exercise jurisdiction to adjudicate church-related disputes as long as those disputes can be resolved (1) based on 'neutral principles of law' and (2) without resolving a religious controversy," wrote Cook.

"The AWFC and the [UMC General Council on Finance and Administration] have not cited a single Alabama case holding that the First Amendment bars a trial court from adjudicating a church-related dispute over real property."

Harvest Lead Pastor Ralph Sigler, who helped to found the congregation, said in a video posted to Facebook on Friday that it was "really exciting" and that "we give God praise for that."

"We'll see how the long the conference, bishop and trustees want to carry on the legal proceedings or if they're ready to drop it," Sigler said. "We're thankful to the Lord for an exciting win."

In November 2022, Harvest filed the lawsuit against the UMC out of concern that the congregation would lose control of its Fortner Street campus if they sought to leave the denomination.

"UMC purports all property owned or acquired by Harvest Church is actually subject to a legal trust in favor of the UMC denomination," stated the lawsuit, according to WTVY. "Unless restrained by an [court] injunction, there is accordingly a significant risk that UMC will improperly confiscate or interfere with Harvest Church's property."

The AWF Conference took exception to the characterization of the relationship between the regional body and the congregation, saying in a statement that it was "an unfair representation of the conference's actions and intentions."