Church Vandalism • Religious Liberty EO Lawsuit • Church and State Debate: News Roundup
This week’s headlines that affect churches and church leaders.
Church Vandalism • Religious Liberty EO Lawsuit • Church and State Debate: News Roundup

Church Organist Confesses to Church Vandalism. “A staff organist has been arrested in the post-election vandalism at an Episcopal church in Indiana—an incident that generated national headlines in November as a possible case of politically motivated hate speech, but one that prosecutors now say was instead the act of someone hoping to mobilize others disappointed with the election results. Nathan Stang, 26, faces a misdemeanor count of institutional criminal mischief for the damage to St. David’s Episcopal Church, the congregation in Bean Blossom, Indiana, where he serves as organist. . . . St. David’s was one of at least two Episcopal congregations that were targeted with graffiti on the weekend after Donald Trump was elected president. The graffiti at St. David’s included the words ‘Heil Trump’ as well as a gay slur and a swastika. . . . [W]hen confronted with results of the nearly six-month investigation, [Stang] confessed to spray-painting the graffiti himself” (“Church organist arrested in post-election vandalism at Episcopal congregation in Indiana,” Episcopal News Service).

The vandalism at St. David’s was previously covered in a November News Roundup post. To learn more about how to reduce the risk of vandalism at your church, download our Protecting Church Property resource.

Freedom From Religion Foundation Challenges Religious Liberty Executive Order. “[On May 4] the Freedom From Religion Foundation filed suit in a Wisconsin federal district court challenging President Trump's executive order on free speech and religious liberty. The complaint (full text) in Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. v. Trump . . . seeks an order declaring that the executive order violates the Establishment Clause and the equal protection element of the Fifth Amendment by providing preferential treatment to churches and that it exceeds the President's powers under Article II. The complaint also asks for an injunction preventing the Commissioner of Internal Revenue from implementing the executive order. The complaint quotes at length presidential statements, particularly to Evangelical Christian audiences, promising to overturn the Johnson Amendment, and then contends: ‘The EO, with the President’s annotated interpretation and construction, makes clear that a relaxed and differential standard of enforcement of § 501(c)(3) electioneering restrictions shall be applied to churches and religious officials’” (“FFRF Sues to Enjoin Executive Order’s Directions on Johnson Amendment,” Religion Clause).

Last week, four legal experts shared their views on the new executive order and what it means for churches’ political involvement.

Church and State Debate Leaves Massachusetts Church Without City Funds for Repairs. “When it came time to speak on a $5,000 Community Preservation Fund article to fix the foundation at the Ashland Federated Church, Town Meeting Moderator Adam Shuster was surprised at how many people moved toward the microphone. . . . What ensued Wednesday night was a long debate on the separation of church and state before the relatively small article was shot down, first by a hand count and, after a recount, by a margin of 74-68. It was the only article to fail on Town Meeting floor Wednesday. The church on Main Street will go without CPA money to help fix decaying steps and foundation at the old and iconic building. . . . [M]ore residents sided with the speakers who said they wouldn’t be comfortable authorizing town money for a religious institution” (“Federated Church in Ashland loses out on CPC money after church versus state debate,” The MetroWest Daily News).

Wondering which religious liberty cases in your state could affect your church? Check out our Recent Developments interactive map.

Fight Breaks Out During Meeting at Georgia Church. “A 36-year-old man was charged Friday with inciting a riot in the Monday brawl that broke out at a Macon church. Julian DeWayne Coker was identified by Bibb County sheriff’s deputies on video footage from the fight at Greater Bellevue Baptist Church, according to a news release from the sheriff’s office. . . . Before Monday’s brawl, tensions had been high among members of the church congregation. There was a disagreement about the pastor’s future at the church. A vote was supposed to decide whether the Reverend David Stephens would stay or leave, but punches were thrown and chairs were toppled instead. The fight at the Mumford Road church made national news after someone posted a 35-minute-long viral video of the meeting” (“Man arrested in brawl at Macon church,” The Telegraph).

Viral videos and posts can create controversy for a church—in “How Your Church Can Avoid Social Media Conflict,” attorney Gisele Kalonzo-Douglas discusses effective ways for churches to navigate their online presence.

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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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