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Here is the Steeple--But Whose Steeple?

Here is the church
And here is the steeple.
But does it belong
To the group or the people?

Church property disputes are painful and usually contentious. Usually, though not always, they begin when a congregation wants to leave the denomination, often over doctrinal fidelity. Because it is a dispute over church property, deep constitutional issues apply that may trump regular property law.

Child Sexual Abuse Prevention, Policies, and Training for Ministries: Two Effective Approaches

Preventing child abuse, particularly child sexual abuse, should be a top concern for churches and ministries, given the tragic effects on children and the ethical and moral responsibility of an organization that works with children to care for those children. The most important reason to address these issues is that abuse can wreck children’s lives and cause effects going on into adulthood. Children, spouses, and families of victims also suffer. In addition, the impact of the child sexual abuse scandal on Catholic and other churches shows that an organization’s life can be nasty, brutish and short when it is hit by major litigation.

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. 

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.

Witnessing in Public--Muniz v. City of San Antonio

One area of religious liberty that has been challenged a few times recently is the right to share one's faith and hand out religious literature on a public sidewalk. The Muniz lawsuit is only in the initial stages, but will revolve around the religious liberties principles.

Christian Student Groups at Universities—Identity Versus Diversity

Blog post by Lauren Burson, Telios Law intern summer 2012

In an effort to demonstrate open-mindedness and be welcoming to all, our society sometimes takes tolerance to the extreme, essentially erasing diversity by bulldozing protective measures that would otherwise help to maintain a unique identity.

Destroying Religious Freedom for Everyone

Christians in Rutherford County, Tennessee, have battled for two years against the construction and opening of the Murfreesboro mosque. Not only are the “Christian” actions in Rutherford County unconstitutional, they are short-sighted. If they succeed in changing religious liberty protections for Muslims, they change them for everyone. They are sowing the wind, blithely unaware that when it is time to harvest, all people of faith will reap the whirlwind.

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.

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. 

Speak Up: Issue Advocacy in Increasingly Politicized Times

Wagenmaker OberlyHow should responsible nonprofits be organized under the Internal Revenue Code  if they wish to educate, inform, and advocate on politically sensitive issues within the public arena? This article is intended to help nonprofit leaders to answer these questions, so that they can be encouraged to speak up on important issues in the public arena without being chilled in their free speech activities or jeopardizing their tax-exempt status.

Election Year Q & A: Political Activity Do’s and Don’ts

Are nonprofits allowed to participate in political activities? What about religious and other nonprofit leaders who feel compelled to speak up about economic and moral issues raised in election campaigns?

Since the mid-1950s, religious, educational, and charitable organizations have been prohibited from “directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.” Nonprofits are allowed to engage in a very limited amount of legislative lobbying, and their workers may express their own personal views. The election prohibition, however, is absolute. So how can responsible nonprofits act appropriately in compliance with applicable rules? The following questions and answers address these and related questions regarding prohibited political campaign activity.

Religious Freedom: We’re All Equal, But Some Are More Equal Than Others

protest speechI took my first foray into the legislative process this January, testifying at a committee hearing of the Colorado House in support of a bill that would have prohibited universities from denying benefits to any religious student group based on “the religious student group’s requirement that its leaders adhere to the group’s sincerely held religious beliefs or standards of conduct.” That’s it. The bill didn’t apply to visitors to the groups, or even regular members.

Bronx Household of Faith--Ten Years of Squabbling Over the First Amendment

In a one-sentence simplistic summary, the Bronx Household of Faith (Church) wants to rent space in the public schools for Sunday meetings, and the New York City Board ofEducation (Board) wants to keep it—and other churches—out.  This dispute has produced over an inch-thick sheaf of judicial opinions over the last ten years, learnedly discussing the intricacies of the clauses of the First Amendment.  New arguments and injunctions (or directives from the court) keep popping up like dandelions, and Judge Preska recently granted yet another preliminary injunction that prevents the Board, for now, from enforcing its policy to keep the Church out.  This post tries to explain how we got “here,” and where “here” is.

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).

RLUIPA Prison Case Had No Merit

The Third Circuit issued an opinion on February 9, 2012, deciding a prisoner RLUIPA (Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act) case that contained an issue of first impression. The importance of this case for future reference will likely be the holding that RLUIPA does not permit government employees to be sued as individuals, but only in their governmental capacity. (The act protects both religious land use, such as for churches in zoning issues, and religious expression in institutions such as prisons.)

Religious Diversity: Talking in the Shadow of the Liberty Bell

The national dialogue on religious law issues often generates more heat than light. In public debate, speakers stand on a soapbox shouting and cheer-leading their own side.Voices get shrill and invective flies about the “other side.” Let’s take one common example. Free exercise in the public schools touches two passions—people’s religion and their children. And it triggers protective feelings because of deep fears.

Only One Parsonage Tax Exemption Allowed

A minister may not claim more than one residence under the parsonage allowance exemption, based on the opinion in Comm'r of IRS v. Driscoll, issued February 8, 2012 by the Eleventh Circuit. For some time, debate has raged about this issue, both on statutory and fairness grounds, so this is an important decision.

Update to "Conservatives Counseling Gay or Lesbian Clients"

A few years back, values-based referrals by counselors were proper under the American Counseling Association (ACA) Code of Ethics if done tactfully, so as not to wound the client, and were ethically permissible if the therapist, because of personal beliefs, could not provide what the client was seeking. Since we first reported on this issue, several big changes have altered that premise, most importantly, a major change in the ACA Code of Ethics.

Conservatives Counseling Gay or Lesbian Clients

Three recent federal circuit court decisions address how conservative Christian therapists may interact with homosexual clients in cases where personal beliefs may conflict with a duty of client care.  Despite different outcomes, there may be common principles. Schools and employers may not require therapists to change their religious convictions, but under the American Counseling Association (ACA) code of ethics, therapists may not impose values on their clients. Referrals can solve the problem, if done tactfully.

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