Supreme Court Denies Church Case • Oklahoma Church Lawsuit • Bethel Church Gift: News Roundup
This week’s headlines that affect churches and church leaders.
Supreme Court Denies Church Case • Oklahoma Church Lawsuit • Bethel Church Gift: News Roundup

Supreme Court Denies Review in Lutheran Church Retirement Plans Case. “The US Supreme Court today denied review in Evangelical Lutheran Church v. Bacon. . . . In the case, a Minnesota state court of appeals held that the First Amendment does not prevent a civil court from adjudicating a challenge to the manner in which the Lutheran Church retirement plans were managed. Plan participants claimed breach of fiduciary duty, breach of trust, and fraud and concealment in the administration and management of the plans” (“Cert. Denied in Church Retirement Plan Fiduciary Duty Case,” Religion Clause).

For more on fiduciary duties, check out the Church Finance book and the Essential Guide to Liabilities and Duties for Church Boards, a downloadable resource. In addition, the 2017 Church & Clergy Tax Guide examines how churches can provide retirement plans for ministers.

No Legal Recourse for Syrian Man in Oklahoma Church Lawsuit. “A man from Syria who says he was tortured in his home country after converting to Christianity has no legal recourse against an Oklahoma church that published his name and baptism online, the state’s highest court ruled on Wednesday. . . . ‘Appellant asserts that he suffered numerous physical injuries and psychological damage, all proximately caused by appellees’ publication of his baptism, in contravention of promises they supposedly made to him that it would be kept confidential,’ the court wrote in its majority opinion. But the court upheld a lower court ruling and decided that despite the plaintiff’s injuries, courts must refrain from ‘undue interference with religious beliefs and practices.’ ‘Per the church autonomy doctrine, the courts lack subject matter jurisdiction over the matter,’ Chief Justice Douglas Combs wrote in the majority opinion” (“Oklahoma court favors church in Syrian torture lawsuit,” The Washington Post).

See this Recent Development for an in-depth case study involving a court that ruled it was prevented from interfering in church affairs because of the First Amendment’s religious freedom guarantees.

Bethel Church Offers Financial Gift to Retain Police Unit. “Bethel Church is offering the city of Redding (CA) $500,000 over two years and challenging faith groups and businesses to raise another $740,000 over the same period to retain the four officers that would allow the police department to keep the neighborhood police unit. . . . [The offer] arrives against a money crunch backdrop that may force job cuts in the fire department. Communities everywhere in California are being stricken by more benefits and pension cost increases. The financial gift would guarantee at least an extra $250,000 to the city’s tight coffers for each of the two years. The total cost to keep four officers over that period is $1.24 million. . . . Bethel leadership also has expressed interest in committing $50,000 toward a marketing effort that promotes a sense of ownership in the community and giving” (“Bethel offers $500,000 to prevent police layoffs,” Record Searchlight).

See the Essential Guide to Church Budgeting for how to strategically plan for your church’s budget and financial health.

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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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