Establishment Clause Violation • Gang Violence at Church • Church Shooter Guilty: News Roundup
This week’s headlines that affect churches and church leaders.
Establishment Clause Violation • Gang Violence at Church • Church Shooter Guilty: News Roundup
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Florida Court Rules City Park’s Cross Violates Establishment Clause. “In Kondrat'yev v. City of Pensacola, Florida . . . a clearly reluctant Florida federal district court judge held that a 34-foot concrete Latin cross that has stood in the city's Bayview Park for decades violates the Establishment Clause. The cross is the site for an annual Easter sunrise service as well as remembrance services on Veterans Day and Memorial Day. . . . The court concluded that ACLU of Georgia v. Rabun County Chamber of Commerce, a 1983 case from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals involving ‘this exact issue on virtually identical facts,’ required it to conclude that the Bayview Cross violates the Establishment Clause under the Lemon test” (“Latin Cross In City Park Violates Establishment Clause,” Religion Clause).

Learn about the religion clauses in the First Amendment—including the Establishment Clause—in Pastor, Church & Law.

Los Angeles Church Sued by City in Attempt to Combat Gang Violence. “Pastor Kenneth Little knew the family renting out the church’s property across the street long before the violence began. . . . But over the last year there have been problems at the property, according to police, who say it has become a stronghold for the predominantly Latino Playboys gang. Little said that shootings at the site during church services have spooked congregants, and he has had to cancel Bible study sessions. In an effort to curb the violence, the city recently filed a nuisance abatement lawsuit against the church, alleging that the Playboys gather daily at the Avalon Boulevard property and engage in criminal activity. Over the last year, according to the lawsuit, there have been five shootings at the site, as well as illegal narcotics and weapons sales. . . . The remedies, [City Attorney Mike Feuer] said, include evicting the tenants and fencing off the property. The lawsuit also asks for an Internet-connected video monitoring system and better lighting on the site” (“This South L.A. church is a gang hangout, city says. Now it’s the center of a lawsuit,” Los Angeles Times).

Ohio Church Shooter Found Guilty of Murder. “An Ohio man [Daniel Schooler] charged with fatally shooting his pastor brother in a church office as Sunday services were ending has been found guilty of murder. A jury also found [the] 69-year-old . . . guilty Wednesday of felonious assault in the February 28, 2016, shooting death of the Reverend William Schooler in Dayton. . . . Schooler testified he went to the church to discuss a lawsuit about what he said was his inheritance. He said he feared for his life and shot 70-year-old William Schooler in self-defense after his brother reached toward him. Prosecutors said Daniel Schooler went to the church angry and with a handgun” (“Ohio man found guilty of murder in pastor brother’s slaying, The Associated Press).

Schooler’s competency hearing was covered in a previous News Roundup. For more details on violent incidents that unfolded at churches in 2016, see church security expert Carl Chinn’s overview.

Supreme Court Ruling on Religiously Affiliated Hospitals Lacks ‘Church Affiliation’ Definition. “The US Supreme Court has ruled that health-care systems with a current and/or distinct church affiliation are exempt from federal employee-benefit plan regulations. The justices ruled 8-0 June 5 in favor of Advocate Health Care and two other religiously affiliated hospital systems that they don’t have to follow ERISA, or the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. The law requires pension plans be insured and sufficiently funded. However, health-care analysts said the justices did not decide or explain what constitutes church affiliation. That means if a hospital’s current church affiliation could be disputed, it might still be subject to ERISA. . . . The justices determined that Congress’s intent with ERISA was to exempt not only church plans ‘established and maintained . . . for its employees . . . by a church,’ but also what it called principal-purpose organizations ‘if such organization is controlled by or associated with a church.’ That means employees of such church-affiliated organizations may not have the same benefits protections as those plans regulated by ERISA, while the organizations can reduce or eliminate ERISA-oriented regulatory expenses” (“Ruling exempts church-affiliated hospitals from pension plan rules; no impact on Triad hospitals,” Winston-Salem Journal).

This SCOTUS ruling was highlighted in our June 7 News Roundup. For more information on the ruling and its effects, read Christianity Today’s coverage here.

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