Zoning Challenge • No-Aid Provision • Sexual Assault Lawsuit: News Roundup
    This week’s headlines that affect churches and church leaders.
    Zoning Challenge • No-Aid Provision • Sexual Assault Lawsuit: News Roundup
    Image: Jennifer Langley / Unsplash

    Court Rejects Church Camp’s Challenge to Zoning Decision. “In House of Prayer Ministries, Inc. v. Rush County Board of Zoning Appeals . . . an Indiana state appeals court rejected a challenge by a church summer camp to a zoning board decision granting a special exception to a dairy farm to operate a concentrated animal feeding operation one-half mile from the summer camp. The church argued in part that the grant of the special exception substantially burdens its religious exercise by ‘imperiling the health of the children’ at its camp. The court first held that the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act is not available to the church here because a RLUIPA claim can be raised only by a person with a property interest in the land that is regulated. RLUIPA does not extend to other property that is merely affected by a land use decision as to neighboring land” (“Church Camp Loses Challenge to Zoning Decision on Neighboring Dairy Farm,” Religion Clause).

    Need help understanding zoning laws? Read these tips.

    Panel Considers Repealing Florida’s No-Aid Provision for Churches. “Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero on Friday urged a Constitution Revision Commission panel to repeal a constitutional ban on state support for religious groups. Cantero told the commission’s Education Committee that the so-called ‘no-aid’ provision in the Florida Constitution is unnecessary and would likely be held unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court based on recent rulings. The no-aid provision, also known as the ‘Blaine Amendment,’ dates to Florida’s 1885 Constitution and prohibits public funding ‘directly or indirectly’ for any church, religious group or sectarian institution. Citing a U.S. Supreme Court case that overturned a Missouri decision to deny playground funding to a church-affiliated daycare center, Cantero said Florida’s no-aid provision would also likely be rejected by the federal courts. Florida is one of 37 states with a no-aid provision. ‘Beyond I think the obvious unconstitutionality of the no-aid provision given the Supreme Court’s recent case, we no longer need that provision in our Florida Constitution,’ Cantero said” (“Panel weighs ban on support for religious groups,” The Daily Commercial).

    Read more about the Supreme Court’s decision in the Missouri case (and what it means for churches) here.

    Sexual Assault Lawsuit Filed Against Former Senior Pastors at California Church. “Former senior pastors at a Santa Maria church are facing a sexual battery, assault and harassment lawsuit filed by a former parishioner, who also alleges church officials did not take action when complaints were raised. The lawsuit—filed last summer by a mother of two in her 30s identified as Jane Doe—claims that former Church for Life pastors Robert Litzinger and Cindy Litzinger knowingly co-conspired in conduct from 2014-16 that included sexual harassment, battery, assault and gender violence. Criminal charges have never been filed against either Robert or Cindy, according to court records. Doe is seeking compensatory and punitive damages against the defendants, along with attorney and court fees, claiming she was harmed physically and mentally. . . . Robert stepped down from church leadership in June 2016 after complaints were made to church personnel about opinions on viewing pornography he allegedly communicated during one of his premarriage counseling courses, according to the suit. Shortly after Robert stepped down, Doe discovered more than a dozen women had similar experiences with the pastor” (“Former senior pastors at Church for Life face sexual assault lawsuit; attorneys deny misconduct,” The Santa Maria Times).

    Attorney Richard Hammar defines sexual harassment in a church context in this article.

    Settlement Approved in Class Action Suit Against Catholic Health Care System. “Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court held that retirement plans of religiously affiliated health care systems qualify as ‘church plans’ exempt from ERISA. . . . Now a settlement has been approved by an Illinois federal district court in a class action suit against Ascension, the largest Catholic health care system in the country. The suit was one of many that challenged the availability of the church plan exemption” (“‘Church Plan’ Class Action Settled,” Religion Clause).

    ManagingYourChurch.com covered last June’s ruling in this News Roundup.

    We're always preparing the best and fastest ways to bring you the news in the context of expert advice. For more regular updates, follow us on Twitter or on Facebook.

    Emily Lund is assistant editor for Church Law & Tax.

    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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