It makes sense for religious organizations such as churches, temples, synagogues and other religious nonprofits to form corporations. Incorporating enables the religious organization to enjoy the benefits of limited liability and other attributes of corporate entities. In New York, religious corporations are controlled by both the Religious Corporations Law (RCL) and the New York Not-for-Profit Corporations Law (NPL). This interplay between the two laws can be complex. Any church or synagogue considering incorporating should consult an attorney familiar with both the RCL and the NPL.
Because of the separation of church and state, the requirements for becoming a religious corporation can be less onerous than other corporation law. The New York Religious Corporation Law has general statutes that apply to all religious corporations and numerous denomination-specific articles.
For example, the articles of incorporation for religious organizations that maintain a place of worship are filed in the county with the county clerk where the religious organization is located, instead of with the Secretary of State as are other corporations.
Churches and other religious corporations who wish to dissolve do not have to get the attorney general’s permission, unlike other nonprofits. Although religious corporations do need to get the attorney general’s permission to sell property, if that sale is pursuant to dissolution, only the Supreme Court needs to give permission. However, if an issue is not addressed in the RCL, then the New York Not-for-Profit law must be followed.
Because the Religious Corporations Law is such an unknown part of New York non-profit law, affecting how to sell property and dissolve the church, you should contact an attorney knowledgeable in this law before forming or dissolving a church or other religious corporation, or selling property.