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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.

Recovered Memory Therapy is Dangerous for Therapists as Well as Patients

Recovered memory therapy continues to be a controversial topic, with experts debating about whether it is valid. As a legal matter, this controversy has slowly spilled over into an increased risk of liability for the therapist who chooses to use the technique. More and more states are holding that parents of children who recover memories of sexual abuse can sue the child’s therapist because the therapist has helped to create false allegations against them. Michigan is the latest jurisdiction to affirm the right of a child’s parent to sue the child’s therapist.

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.

Seven Lessons from Archdiocese Criminal Prosecution

The State of Minnesota filed criminal charges against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. The charge was six counts of a gross misdemeanor criminal complaint, for putting children at risk in various ways. What lessons should organizations gather from this criminal complaint?

Practical Ways for Your Church to Respond to an Allegation of Child Abuse

church buildingOne of the hardest things your church may ever deal with is an allegation of child sexual abuse. These allegations create responsibilities for reporting to law enforcement, for ministering to people who are hurt, evaluating child safety procedures that are in place, interacting with media, dealing with offenders, considering legal issues, and other tough challenges.

Reporting Child Abuse in Obscure Contexts

sad-child-park-benchIf your organization is in the United States or other countries with well-established child abuse reporting laws, then reporting is simple. If the alleged abuse happened in a country where reporting protocol is not established—or you have a multijurisdictional nightmare—or abuse that is historic—it may not be clear whether and how to report.

Reporting Child Abuse is Critical and Complex

Reporting child abuse is complex and important. Failure to report abuse can leave children at risk. Still, be wise before picking up the phone. An error in one direction may leave a child abused or make you criminally liable. An error in the other direction may damage a family, ruin a career, or expose you to a defamation lawsuit. 

An Unusual Perspective in the Clash of Rights—Thomas Berg’s “Progressive Arguments for Religious Organizational Freedom: Reflections on the HHS Mandate”

Thomas Berg has written an interesting article suggesting that progressives should improve their commitment to religious liberty for traditionalists. Progressives understand, forinstance, that the recent HHS contraceptive mandate impinges on religious liberty. But, as they will tell you, they just don’t care when the issue is one that is important to them, such as access to reproductive choice or gay rights.

Passing on the Pastor: Sexual Abuse and Public Statements About Ministerial Qualifications

passing the pastorIf a religious organization believes that a minister or other employee has engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior, what responsibility does it have to notify others? How does child sexual abuse change the rules for normal termination procedure? Those who become victims of that person insist it is the organization’s duty to share that information. Employees who have been terminated for such behavior say sharing such information is a breach of confidence amounting to defamation. 

Local Government and Legislative Prayer--Can They Pray or Not?

Two recent decisions on invocational prayer before local government Board meetings, filed in March of 2013, came out in opposite directions, but give some insight into the legal principles involved in determining whether Boards can properly sponsor a formal prayer before meetings. In Hudson v. Pittsylvania County, the federal district court for the Western District of Virginia issued an injunction against the prayers being offered. In Atheists of Florida v. City of Lakeland, the Eleventh Circuit found no constitutional violation. Different courts on different days, or consistent underlying principles?

You Gave the Church Away?

You hate to see a case with a caption like God’s Hope Builders, Inc. v. Mount Zion Baptist Church, since it seems unlikely the lawsuit is what God would have hoped for. The Georgia Court of Appeals, on March 28, 2013, remanded this case with orders to the trial court to figure out, if it legitimately could, who the church members actually were.

What is RLUIPA Substantial Burden on a Church, Anyway?

The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) makes the government meet a very tough standard for a land use regulation that imposes a substantial burden on religious exercise, including for churches. Obviously an important initial question is whether the regulation does impose a substantial burden. A Fourth Circuit case issued January 31, 2013, Bethel World Outreach Ministries v. Montgomery County Council, develops the “substantial burden” standard in a way that may help other churches facing zoning issues.

Legal Concerns Across Multiple Jurisdictions

Sometimes an organization may be in a situation where the laws of more than one jurisdiction may apply or do apply. Cross-border issues are complex, and sometimes the law of different jurisdictions creates contradictions. Questions may arise in the following areas as well as others.

Privacy Law- How it Affects Your Organisation

Privacy law in Europe (also known as data protection law) became an important issue for organisations both in and outside Europe in about 2000 when tough rules around use of ‘data’ were introduced. The need for the law was attributed to the explosion in generation and use of data as a result of the advancement of the electronic age.

Short-Term Mission Trip Insurance — Who Needs It?

If your ministry is planning a short-term mission trip, such as a spring break construction project, the insurance issues can be confusing. Does everyone have health insurance? Will it cover health issues that occur overseas? Will it cover emergencies like medical evacuation? Do people have auto insurance? Will that cover them overseas if they are driving? What if they are passengers?

Defending America's Essence: Did Government Violate Muslim Prisoners Rights?

A group of eight Muslim men detained in the aftermath of 9/11 filed claims against a number of government officials in a case called Turkmen v. Ashcroft, including then-Attorney General John Ashcroft from the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Director of the FBI, the Commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), and personnel at the detention center where they were held. Ultimately, the Muslim men were charged with immigration violations, but not terrorism.

Must Education Be Faith Free

one room school houseMust public education be free from all religion? Should parents who want Biblical education pay twice but - once, through taxes for public school, and again for a private school with their values? The Freedom From Religion Foundation staged another attack on a school released-time policy. The FFRF insists that the plan is “granting special treatment to attend select evangelical Christian education courses,” and that violates the Constitution.

Do I Have to Work on Sundays?

Some jobs require a person to work on the Sabbath. Does the law require you to work on your Sabbath, or does your employer have to accommodate your religious beliefs and let you go to church (or mosque or synagogue or temple)? As attorneys love to say, that depends. Two recent cases in late 2012 give some idea of how employers’ and employees’ rights are balanced in the context of time off for worship. Both cases are based on Title VII, which prohibits employers from discriminating based on religion (and includes all aspects of religious observance and practice)—unless the employer can demonstrate that it cannot reasonably accommodate the religious observance without undue hardship.

Washington Rejects Clergy Negligent Supervision/Retention Claims in Church Quarrel

A woman elder, a church employee, vehemently disagreed with her senior pastor’s position on a particular issue. She insisted on pushing her position until the Session finally fired her. Then she sued the church. But the Court agreed with the church that the government has no business telling the church how to manage its leadership.

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