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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.

ADA - Part 1: Monitoring Spiritual and Mental Health Without Violating the ADA

A new Sixth Circuit case, Kroll v. White Lake Ambulance Authority, decided on August 22, 2012, potentially raises a new set of problems for churches and mission organizations. Requiring employees to get mental health counseling is likely a violation of the Americans with Disabilities except in certain narrow circumstances. Religious organizations should consider what circumstances apply and be prepared. 

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 Last Straw Better Not Be Religious

Nyaboga v. Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society, a recent unpublished case from the Minnesota Court of Appeals, discusses whether an employee was fired for legitimate reasons or for religious reasons. Nyaboga was fired, then she sued over whether she was entitled to unemployment benefits. She had worked as a nurse, and asked not to be scheduled for Saturday shifts when she got more serious about her religious beliefs as a Seventh-Day Adventist. Her employer required her to find people to replace her on that shift (which the Court hinted might have been a separate problem, but was not discussed in the opinion). By the time Nyaboga lost her job, she had been tardy 58 times and warned repeatedly. She was warned that she would lose her job if she were absent one more time or tardy two more times.

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.

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.

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. 

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.

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