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Should religious employers jump on the “ban the box” bandwagon?

If your ministry asks potential volunteers or employees about any criminal record, do you need to throw out your application and start anew in light your state’s “ban the box” law? This post addresses how religious employers should be aware of “ban the box” laws and the changing legal landscape of considering criminal history in hiring.

Courts and Churches—Interfering in Some Ways But Not Others

Not everything a church does to a pastor is outside the reach of the court. That is a recent lesson church officials learned in a case out of Ohio federal court dealing with the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine. Also known as the church autonomy doctrine, this is the principle that civil courts will stay out of the doctrinal and important decisions a church makes, such as the decision to fire a pastor or remove a parishioner from membership. This case, Barrow v. Living Word Church, et al.,1 is an interesting twist on the doctrine, and serves as a word of caution for churches.

Four Things Your Ministry Needs to Do to Get Ready for the New Overtime Rules

Pastors work tirelessly preparing for sermons, counseling parishioners, and managing other administrative aspects of running a church. A teacher at a religious school spends countless hours developing lesson plans, and even more instructing students on matters of doctrine. A missionary’s work in the field does not fit the traditional 9 to 5 work day, and the person may be “on call” nearly 24-7. Often, religious workers, driven by a sense of calling, work far more than a 40-hour-work week. Does a religious organization have to pay overtime under a federal law called the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)? While the answer used to be “most likely not,” a recent change in the rules governing when overtime must be paid creates some confusion, and probably a mixed result.

Reprise of the Hosanna-Tabor Facts and Principles

Although it doesn’t have much independent value as a precedent, a recent case is an eerie factual copycat of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, an employment law case that applied the constitutional ministerial exception doctrine. Herzog v. St. Peter Lutheran, an August 2012 memorandum opinion out of the federal Northern District of Illinois, faithfully applies the Hosanna-Tabor principles to a similar set of facts.

The Court Prevents a Former Minister from Suing his Church for Defamation

Defamation claims against religious organizations are more common than you would think. It’s almost impossible to challenge who a religious organization selects as a minister or how it disciplines that minister. So these claims focus on the idea that what was said about the minister is defamatory—something that is not directly controlled by constitutional law. Here is a recent example of a case that ultimately had an indirect constitutional defense. 

Third Circuit Supports Church Autonomy

The doctrine of church autonomy, which defines broad areas where civil courts cannot interfere with church decisions, plays an important part in First Amendment free exercise rights. On June 28, 2012, the Third Circuit issued a precedential opinion, Askew v. The Trustees of the General Assembly of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith, Inc., supporting this doctrine. 

Church Autonomy (Ecclesiastical Abstention) is Still Alive and Well in Texas

When someone brings their church to court in Texas there are two things the court is likely to do. The court may refuse to hear the case because it would require getting into church doctrine or issues that are reserved to the church’s decision-making (“church autonomy” or “ecclesiastical abstention”). Or, the court could hear the case just like any other civil action because the court can decide the case using “neutral principles of law.” These are the principles of law that control the case when doctrine is not critical.

Part 1: Labor Unions at Christian Colleges? NLRB Thinks So.

Christian CollegeCan you have a union at a religious college? Only if the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) can exercise its jurisdiction over faculty members. NLRB has tried to do this several times. Shortly before Christmas in 2014, the NLRB developed a new test that lets it take jurisdiction over the faculty at Pacific Lutheran University (PLU).

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