When are Church Records Admissible? Watch this short GLF Summary video on Hearsay and Records of Religious Organizations
We dropped a new summary video about an exception to the hearsay rule known as the rule about “Records of Religious Organizations.” It is found in Federal Rule of Evidence 803(11). Please recall that ‘‘Hearsay’’ refers to a statement that is not made while testifying at the current trial or hearing and is offered into evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement. A ‘‘statement’’ is what a person said or wrote but also includes nonverbal conduct, if the person intended the conduct as an assertion. The General Rule is that Hearsay statements are not admissible in court.
One exception to this rule says that certain records regularly maintained by a religious organization are not hearsay.
Specifically, a statement of birth, legitimacy, ancestry, marriage, divorce, death, relationship by blood or marriage, or similar facts of personal or family history, contained in a regularly kept record of a religious organization are not hearsay.
For example, in a case where heirship was disputed, church marriage and baptismal records were admissible to prove lineage.
But, it is important to understand that the records proffered under 803(11) must be copies of the actual records maintained by the religious organization. Affidavits or documents abstracted from the original records will not meet the elements of 803(11) for admissibility.
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