Church Bus Crash • Presbyterian Lawsuit • SCOTUS ‘Church Plan’ Case: News Roundup
This week’s headlines that affect churches and church leaders.
Church Bus Crash • Presbyterian Lawsuit • SCOTUS ‘Church Plan’ Case: News Roundup

Church Bus Crash in Texas Kills 13. “The driver of a pickup truck that collided with a church minibus in rural Texas, killing 13 people, apologized after the crash and acknowledged he had been texting while driving, a witness said Friday. . . . Department of Public Safety Sergeant Conrad Hein declined to comment on Friday on the cause of the crash or if texting might have played a role. But officials have said the truck driver appeared to have crossed the center line. . . . Twelve people died at the scene, authorities said. Another bus passenger died at a San Antonio hospital. . . . The First Baptist Church of New Braunfels, Texas, said its members were returning from a three-day retreat at the Alto Frio Baptist Encampment in Leakey, about 9 miles from the crash site. It is not yet clear if the bus passengers were wearing seatbelts or even if the minibus was fitted with suitable restraints” (“Driver in Deadly Texas Church Bus Crash Was Texting, Witness Says,” ABC 7).

See additional coverage of this story from Christianity Today’s Gleanings.

Ensure that your church’s vehicles are equipped for safe trips and reduce the risk of accidents with the Transportation Safety for Your Church downloadable resource.

Presbytery of Boston Sues ‘Breakaway Faction.’ “[T]he congregation [of Newton Presbyterian Church] in January voted 107 to 26 to abandon the Presbyterian Church (USA) and join a small but growing evangelical denomination. They put a sign on the lawn to proclaim the congregation’s new name: Newton Covenant Church. But now, the Presbyterian Church wants its church back. Its local authority, the Presbytery of Boston, has sued to regain control of the $5.6 million Vernon Street building and return it to members of the Newton congregation who want to remain Presbyterian, a minority they say represents the ‘true church.’ The denomination says the 11 Newton church leaders named in the lawsuit knew the January vote was unauthorized and in defiance of the denomination’s rules. . . . The lawsuit accuses the ‘breakaway faction’ of removing the church sign, hijacking the church’s old website, and seizing control of the church’s bank accounts. It seeks unspecified damages. But most importantly, say the plaintiffs, who also include the remaining Presbyterian congregants, it demands the return of their church” (“Presbyterians want their Newton church back,” The Boston Globe).

Learn about the church documents and records board members need to know with this article from attorney Richard Hammar.

Supreme Court Retirement Benefits Case Could Redefine IRS Interpretation of ‘Church.’ “A Supreme Court case about retirement benefits could hold surprising consequences for America's religious communities. In parsing the legal language, justices may need to redefine what counts as a church. Advocate Health Care Network v. Stapleton centers on what types of employers are considered religious—or at least religiously affiliated—under Internal Revenue Service pension rules. The petitioners, a group of three religiously affiliated health care systems, argue that they are eligible to run church plan pensions, which are exempt from the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. An ERISA exemption means the hospitals don't have to report pension savings to the government or pay related premiums. But these exemptions concern the health care systems' employees because their church pensions plans—which they say are underfunded by around $4 billion—aren't protected by the ERISA safety net. The workers who initiated the Supreme Court case assert that the church plan exemption shouldn't include pension plans that weren't established by a faith group, rejecting the IRS's interpretation of ‘church’ as overly broad” (“What counts as a church? Supreme Court pension case asks important question,” Deseret News).

This case was one of three “church plan” exemption cases mentioned in the In Brief section of the March/April issue of Church Law & Tax Report.

Ohio Church and Local Cub Scout Group Face Embezzlement Case. “A case of missing money at a village church may be part of a larger investigation that could involve a local youth organization. Village Police Chief Curt Gipe confirmed Tuesday his department and the Canton office of the FBI are conducting a joint investigation into the theft of a ‘significant amount’ of money from First Evangelical Lutheran Church. . . . Authorities have yet to determine exactly how much money was taken, but believe the money was embezzled over a period of time beginning sometime in 2012. . . . Officials learned of the missing money in mid-January after leaders of the Beach City Cub Scouts noticed discrepancies in their accounts and contacted church officials, who also discovered financial accounting errors in church records. The suspect worked with the Cub Scouts as well, Gipe explained. It is unclear if money is missing from the Cub Scout group, he said” (“Police chief: ‘Monster case’ of money missing from Beach City church,” CantonRep.com).

How should your church respond to fraud and theft? See this downloadable resource for practical guidance, an assessment, and more.

Texas Pastor Allegedly Embezzles $500,000. “Members of an Old East Dallas church say they've been locked out of their place of worship by a man who they say stole from their church. He’s now facing felony charges. A grand jury indicted Munger Avenue Baptist Church Pastor Wade Davis for felony theft and is dealing with more than just criminal charges. There's also a civil suit filed against him. Church members say they long suspected something was wrong with the church's finances, but it wasn't until they took a closer look at bank statements they realized hundreds of thousands of dollars were missing. Attorneys for the pastor say the accusations are false and there are other motives in play. . . . The long-time church members allege they tried to fire Pastor Davis, but he refused to leave. ‘They locked us who were not in favor of him out of the church, put physical locks on the bars and locked themselves in the church.’ . . . They now claim they have to worship in a funeral home. Last week, a grand jury indicted Davis on a felony theft charge after being accused of stealing from the church between 2012 and 2016. Davis’s attorney says the money was donated to the church in his name, authorizing him to use it” (“Dallas pastor accused of stealing nearly $500K from church,” Fox 4).

“Fraud experts often refer to a three-legged stool for embezzlement risk: opportunity, need, and organizational ethos,” writes Church Law & Tax editor Matt Branaugh. Learn more about the risk of embezzlement (and how to take steps to prevent it) in this article.

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This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is published with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations."

Due to the nature of the U.S. legal system, laws and regulations constantly change. The editors encourage readers to carefully search the site for all content related to the topic of interest and consult qualified local counsel to verify the status of specific statutes, laws, regulations, and precedential court holdings.

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