Legal Matters

From my reading and research, it appears to me that by creating the website, referring to ourselves and corresponding under our name, meeting regularly, being listed as an emerging congregation by the UUA, and otherwise behaving as an organization, we have become an unincorporated nonprofit association under WV law.  It does not require any written rules, bylaws, or other documentation.  It’s very much like a common-law marriage – if you act like you’re married, you are. As a nonprofit association, we are required to appoint an agent to receive service of process and file that appointment with the Secretary of State, although there does not seem to be a penalty for not doing so.  It would, however, make clear that we are an association in case any questions of liability come up. We can, without further organization, open a bank account and own personal property, and we can make real estate transactions if we appoint an agent and file appropriately. Individual members are not liable for the acts of the association and we have standing in court if an individual member would have standing.

The WV constitution says
“6-47.  Incorporation of religious denominations prohibited.
No charter of incorporation shall be granted to any church or religious denomination.  Provisions may be made by general laws for securing the title to church property, and for the sale and transfer thereof, so that it shall be held, used, or transferred for the purposes of such church, or religious denomination.”

This was a provision of the Virginia constitution, apparently tracing back to Thomas Jefferson (more or less a Unitarian and believer in religious freedom.) Jerry Falwell won a case in Virginia finding their constitutional provision void. WV is now allowing churches to incorporate, but a large majority of churches in WV are still not incorporated.

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Other info

Mission – what we want to do together
Covenant – what we promise each other

Consensus

PO Box – about $50 a year – which post office?
Bank account – local bank?  can pick a free account; plus cost of checks; shouldn’t be many
? Meeting space – Rec center $50 a week; hotel meeting rooms are about $200 dollars
$200 a visit for guest minister
about $100 a year per member for UUA and district dues, which don’t start until we are a member congregation; these support services such as consulting, UU World and district and national organizing

Assuming we have 10 pledgers – cost per week
$2 UUA membership (not needed until we reach 30 members)
$5 meeting space
$2 bank account and PO box

If we want guest ministers one Sunday a month, then we need another $5 per week per person

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As a church, we are exempt from applying for non-profit status, and from registering as a charitable organization at the federal and state level.

We are not required, but should for the purposes of bank accounts, and must if we hire anyone, apply for an IRS Employer Identification Number (EIN), which is free and instantly available with an online application.

We qualify as a church under the IRS definition:

“For tax purposes, a “church” refers to any organization claiming to be a church or any convention or association of churches. The word “church” includes temples, mosques, and other houses of worship. To be considered a church for tax purposes, a group must be part of an organized religion, must have a mission statement, and must be formally organized as a distinct legal entity. Certain characteristics are generally attributed to churches. They include:

A distinct legal existence and religious history
A recognized creed, form of worship, and literature of its own
A definite and distinct ecclesiastical government including a formal code of doctrine and discipline
An organization of ordained ministers, selected after completing prescribed courses of study
Established places of worship with regular congregations, religious services, and/or religious instruction for members.”

“Churches that meet the requirements of IRC section 501(c)(3) are automatically considered tax exempt and are not required to apply for and obtain recognition of tax-exempt status from the IRS.”

Those requirements are:
■ the organization must be organized and operated exclusively for religious, educational, scientific, or other
charitable purposes,
■ net earnings may not inure to the benefit of any private individual or shareholder,
■ no substantial part of its activity may be attempting to influence legislation,
■ the organization may not intervene in political campaigns, and
■ the organization’s purposes and activities may not be illegal or violate fundamental public policy

WV Nonprofit Act
http://www.legis.state.wv.us/WVCODE/ChapterEntire.cfm?chap=36&art=11

WV Business Structures
WV Code – Voluntary Association
WV Code – Unincorporated Nonprofit Association Application form
WV Code – Nonprofit Corporation

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