Baptist Conventions 2, Colleges 0

For 2d time in a month, a state court undercuts religious college's move toward more independence.
June 3, 2005

For the second time in a month, a state court sided with a Baptist convention over a college in a dispute over governance.

A Missouri appeals court on Monday revived a lawsuit in which the state's Baptist convention challenged the right of Missouri Baptist University and four other church-related entities to elect their own trustees.

In 2001, the university (then Missouri Baptist College) and the other nonprofit agencies altered their charters to create self-perpetuating governing boards, part of an attempt to distance themselves from the Missouri Baptist Convention and the increasingly conservative direction it was taking. The convention sued the groups in 2002, charging that their new articles of incorporation were null and void because the convention had not approved them. It also withheld $1 million in funds from the university.
In a series of court rulings, culminating in March 2004, a state court judge concluded that the convention did not have the right to challenge the decisions by the college and the other groups because neither it nor its affiliated churches were "members" of the groups.  

"A shadow has finally been lifted from the university," R. Alton Lacey, president of Missouri Baptist University, said at the time, heralding the end of the lawsuit. 

But the Missouri Baptist Convention appealed the decision, and in its largely procedural ruling Tuesday, a three-judge panel of the Missouri Court of Appeals said that the convention did indeed have standing to sue its affiliated agencies and directed the lower court judge who originally considered the case to take it up again.

A lawyer for the baptist convention, Michael Whitehead, did not return a telephone call seeking comment. But a news release from the convention quoted him as saying that he expected the courts to "hold the breakaway trustees accountable for their unlawful acts of changing their corporate charters to cut off MBC’s rights to elect trustees.”

Paul Huse, director of marketing and public relations at Missouri Baptist University, on Thursday played down the potential impact of the appeals court's decision. "We don't think this changes anything, really," he said. "The unfortunate part is that we're going to have to spend more time in court. But ultimately, we think the court will recognize that we went through all the proper procedures and that the convention cannot have been injured" by the university's actions.

On May 23, The Georgia Supreme Court ruled May 23 that under Georgia corporate law, Shorter College did not have the authority to sever its ties to the Georgia Baptist Convention in 2002.


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