Texas District Court Invalidates DOL Overtime Rule. “The Department of Labor (DOL) exceeded its authority when it doubled the minimum salary levels for exempt executive, professional, and administrative employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), ruled federal judge Amos Mazzant of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas [on August 31]. Granting summary judgment in favor of the states and business plaintiffs who challenged the new overtime rule last November, Judge Mazzant determined that the DOL’s new overtime rule ‘effectively eliminates a consideration of whether an employee performs “bona fide executive, administrative, or professional capacity” duties.’ Judge Mazzant wrote that although Congress delegated authority to the DOL to define and delimit the white-collar exemptions, Congress was clear when enacting the FLSA that the exemption determination needs to involve a consideration of an employee’s duties, rather than relying on salary alone” (“Court Invalidates Overtime Rule Increasing Exempt Salary Levels,” Holland & Hart).
Our sister publication Christianity Today published this report on the ruling. Church Law & Tax continues to follow updates regarding the DOL overtime rule, which was put on hold by a federal judge in November 2016 before it could take effect. Watch for further updates on ChurchLawAndTax.com and in future issues of Church Law & Tax Report and Church Finance Today.
Joel Osteen’s Social Media Comments Met with Criticism During Hurricane. “The leader of a Houston-based megachurch said Tuesday that it would open its doors to victims of Hurricane Harvey, after its initial statements about the storm met with strong criticism online. Joel Osteen, a prominent televangelist and the leader of Lakewood Church, had not said whether the church would be offering shelter when he tweeted Saturday to express his prayers for those affected by the storm. Criticism of Mr. Osteen intensified after the church, which holds services in a 16,000-seat arena that used to house the Houston Rockets basketball team, posted on Facebook on Sunday that the building was inaccessible because of ‘severe flooding.’ ‘We want to help make sure you are safe,’ the post said, before providing a list of shelters in the area. Those two messages tipped off a days-long backlash as social media users questioned why the church was not doing more to help those affected by a storm that has left tens of thousands seeking shelter from rising floodwaters. Many others rushed to the defense of the church, which is home to one of the nation’s largest congregations. . . . At about 11 a.m. Tuesday, Mr. Osteen announced that the church was available to anyone seeking shelter. He said that he and his co-pastor and wife, Victoria Osteen, ‘care deeply about our fellow Houstonians.’ . . . Don Iloff, a church spokesman, told CNN on Tuesday that the church had never closed its doors and that it was always prepared to shelter people once city and county shelters reached their capacity” (“Joel Osteen Says Lakewood Church Is Open to Harvey Victims After Criticism,” The New York Times).
Attorney and Church Law & Tax Editorial Advisor Gisele Kalonzo-Douglas offers insights on how your church can navigate social media wisely.
Trump Announces End of Immigration Program. “Just days after President Donald Trump met with evangelical leaders to discuss the uncertain future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the White House announced Tuesday [September 5] that the program will end in March. Attorney General Jeff Sessions called DACA—which allowed 800,000 young immigrant ‘Dreamers’ to obtain temporary legal status and enter the workforce over the past five years—‘unconstitutional’ and an ‘overreach of the executive branch.’ He said the program led to a surge of young immigrants at the border with Mexico, and ultimately allowed undocumented workers to take jobs from Americans. The phase-out of DACA leaves those students and workers (including young Christian leaders) at risk of deportation—and puts pressure on Congress to pass immigration reform legislation in the meantime. ‘Hundreds of thousands of Hispanic young people will be overcome with fear and grief today,’ said Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC), who has repeatedly lobbied in DACA’s defense as part of the President’s evangelical advisory board” (“Trump Ends DACA, Despite Pleas from Evangelical Advisers,” Christianity Today).
Wisconsin Town Faces Backlash over Church Signs. “[T]he Freedom From Religion Foundation warned the city [of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin] it could pay substantial amounts of money if it chooses to keep religious signs on public property. Ryan Jayne, the group's lawyer, wrote to Mayor David Nold on August 8, saying it would be best for all parties to solve the issue out of court. ‘We are writing a final time to urge the city to take appropriate action to address these religious signs,’ Jayne wrote. . . . The bright blue signs say ‘The churches of Oconomowoc welcome you’ and have a metal cross on top. They have been in the city for more than 50 years. The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Madison-based nonprofit group, first wrote Nold on May 12 seeking the removal of the signs. . . . The group cites the Constitution, saying the signs violate the separation of church and state” (“Group issues ‘final’ letter to city about its church signs,” Journal Sentinel).
Learn more about the religion clauses in the Constitution (and how they affect your church) in Pastor, Church & Law.
Pennsylvania Church Factions Go to Court over Property Dispute. “After splintering last summer, the First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem is seeking judgment of who owns the massive church property in a bench trial that could eventually help clarify Pennsylvania’s murky church property law. . . . A large majority of congregants voted at a special First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem meeting in June to leave the mainline denomination for the more conservative Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, citing theological differences as the Presbyterian Church (USA) increasingly embraced gay rights of clergy and marriage. The church had been considering leaving for more than five years and was in danger of losing a large number of congregants if it didn’t make the switch, according to testimony. Meanwhile, the Lehigh Presbytery, a regional governing body for the church, and a portion of congregants resisted the departure. That set the stage for the dispute over ownership of the 31.5-acre campus at 2344 Center St. in Bethlehem, worth millions of dollars. Both factions worship under the same roof during separate services. . . . The leaders who disaffiliated from the national denomination argue that they never agreed to place the property in trust. The court, they argue, should only examine the church deed and charter when examining the question of ownership—documents where mention of a trust is conspicuously absent” (“First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem property dispute could clarify law,” The Morning Call).
Property disputes were the number-one reason churches went to court last year. Find out the other top reasons (and what the rankings were in previous years) in this infographic.
North Carolina Church Employee Robbed While Depositing Church Funds. “A Catholic Church is speaking out about a robbery targeting a church employee. The robbery happened in a busy area near the Park Road Shopping Center around 11 a.m. Monday. The employee at St. Ann Catholic Church was depositing money for the church outside a Wells Fargo when the suspect robbed her. She was dropping off thousands of dollars in checks and cash when the crime happened. NBC Charlotte spoke to the Diocese of Charlotte about security procedures. A church spokesman says they’re now reviewing their security procedures. . . . [Diocese of Charlotte communicator director David] Haines said the church has insurance for the cash stolen. So far, there are no arrests” (“South Charlotte Catholic church robbed of $10K in broad daylight,” WCNC.com).
Make sure you have a full understanding of your church’s insurance coverage with this downloadable resource.
Emily Lund is Assistant Editor for Church Law & Tax.
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