Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Church Definition:

A charitable association of persons organized for the advancement of religion and for the conduct of religious worship, services or rites, and that is permanently established.

Related Terms: God, Tithe, Religion

Any number of persons who have formed themselves into a congregation of Christians for the public worship of God according to their peculiar rites and ceremonies.

In American Guidance, Justice Gesell of the US District Court had before it a non-profit seeking the designation as a church for income tax reasons.wrote:

"There is no bright line beyond which certain organized activities undertaken for religious purposes coalesce into a church structure....  Unless the organization is reasonably available to the public in its conduct of worship, its educational instruction and its promulgation of doctrine, it cannot fulfill this association role."

Also may refer to the actual place of worship, the building housing a religious society. In can depend on the context, of course. Thus, in Re Perry Almhouses:

"The word church (in the relevant statute) ... clearly does not mean building. It means a religious society of some sort."

But in the context of a municipal zoning bylaw, the Ontario High Court, Justice Clarke wrote, in the Town of Milton v Smith, that church does refer to the physical structure, all depending on the context:

"The ... zoning by-law intended a church to signify a place dedicated to traditional worship, the teaching of traditional secular subjects, however imbued with Christian values, fell outside the ambit of church use in the by-law."

In 1981, the US Supreme Court had before it a case where the term church was used in a statute but bereft of any definition. Justice Blackmun wrote, in St. Martin:

"... to hold church synonymous solely with a physical building that is a house of worship contradicts the phrasing of the statute. The word church ... must be construed, instead, to refer to the congregation or the hierarchy itself, that is, the church authorities who conduct the business of hiring, discharging, and directing church employees."

The Manitoba Religious Societies Lands Act defines religious society as:

"... a church, congregation, or other religious society of persons professing or adhering to a religion or religious faith."

Similarly, the Ontario Religious Organizations' Lands Act defines a religious organization as:

"... an association of persons, that is charitable according to the law of Ontario, that is organized for the advancement of religion and for the conduct of religious worship, services or rites, and that is permanently established both as to the continuity of its existence and as to its religious beliefs, rituals and practices, and includes .... Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Islamic, Jewish, Baha’i, Longhouse Indian, Sikh, Unitarian or Zoroastrian faith, or a subdivision or denomination thereof."

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