Presbyterian Church v. Hull Church

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Presbyterian Church v. Hull Church
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued December 9–10, 1968
Decided January 27, 1969
Full case name Presbyterian Church in the United States, et al. v. Mary Elizabeth Blue Hull Memorial Presbyterian Church, et al.
Citations 393 U.S. 440 (more)
89 S. Ct. 601; 21 L. Ed. 2d 658; 1969 U.S. LEXIS 2702
Prior history Certiorari granted, 390 U.S. 440 (1968)
The First Amendment, as applied through the Fourteenth, bars the state from passing judgment in theological matters when judging property disputes involving religious organizations. Invalidates so-called "departure-from-doctrine" theory.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Earl Warren
Associate Justices
Hugo Black · William O. Douglas
John M. Harlan II · William J. Brennan Jr.
Potter Stewart · Byron White
Abe Fortas · Thurgood Marshall
Case opinions
Majority Brennan, joined by unanimous
Concurrence Harlan
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amends. I, XIV;

Presbyterian Church v. Hull Church, 393 U.S. 440 (1969), was a United States Supreme Court case involving the secession of two local churches from the parent body Presbyterian Church in the United States because, they claimed, the Church had departed from its original doctrinal tenets. The Court ruled that the state could not pass judgment concerning religious doctrine or church law.


In 1966 the sessions of two congregations of the Presbyterian Church in the United States voted to secede from the parent organization. They were upset over the parent body's decisions to ordain women, to remain within the National Council of Churches, its position with regard to the Vietnam War and other social issues, its embrace of "neo-orthodox" and alleged denial of the Holy Trinity and certain Sunday School texts. Subsequently the Presbytery of Savannah appointed an Administrative Commission to resolve the dispute. When the two insurgent churches remained intransigent, the Presbytery attempted to take over the seceding churches' properties until new leadership could be found. The seceding churches then filed suit in the Superior Court of Chatham County to injoin representatives of Presbytery from trespassing on their properties. In response, the denomination moved to dismiss that injunction and filed a cross-injunction on its own behalf claiming that the state had no authority to determine whether the general church had departed from its tenets of faith and practice. The suits were consolidated for trial.

At the trial the case was decided under the doctrine of "implied trust" and "departure from doctrine", which meant that the jury was instructed to render a verdict whether the general church had violated the trust of its members by departing fundamentally from its original tenets. The jury found for the seceding churches, as did the Supreme Court of Georgia.

External links

  • Text of Presbyterian Church in U.S. v. Mary Elizabeth Blue Hull Memorial Presbyterian Church, 393 U.S. 440 (1969) is available from:  Findlaw  Justia 
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