IN Discrimination or Freedom? • Atheist Tax-Exempt Status • Firing a Minister Teacher: News Roundup
This week's news headlines that affect churches.
IN Discrimination or Freedom? • Atheist Tax-Exempt Status • Firing a Minister Teacher: News Roundup

IN Discrimination or Freedom?

Indiana Governor Signs Religious Freedom Restoration Act into Law

Last week, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed into law a religious freedom bill that would allow businesses to refuse services if rendering those services would conflict with their religious beliefs, such as providing flowers or a cake for a same-sex wedding. The law is modeled on the national Religious Freedom Restoration Act that was signed into law by President Clinton in 1993.

The law says that the state cannot “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” unless doing so is to further a “compelling government interest” in the least restrictive way possible, according to NBC News. Proponents of the law say it is needed to protect religious freedom and objections for people like shop owners and medical workers. Opponents say the law could legalize forms of discrimination, particularly against the LGBT community. The law goes into effect in July 2015.

Read more about the national Religious Freedom Restoration Act in our comprehensive guide for church and clergy legal issues, Pastor, Church & Law.

Atheist Tax-Exempt Status

Atheist Group Faces Questions over Donations, ‘Tax-Exempt’ Status

An atheism advocacy organization, We Are Atheism, is facing tough questions about its supposed tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. The group has raised money since 2012 following national disasters and incidents like the Boston Marathon bombing. Those donations, according to We Are Atheism, would be tax-deductible. Now, it is known the organization didn’t even apply for tax-exempt status with the IRS until 2014. Even though the IRS gave the organization retroactive tax-exempt status, people who gave to the group in previous years have been told “make adjustments on your taxes,” according to Religion News Service.

The organization also had trouble with its financial reporting. It claimed that 100% of its donations would be used for relief or its general fund, which was explicitly not going to be used for salaries, but the founder did end up taking $9,500 as a salary in 2013. The group also reported that it gave $25,500 to various charities related to the Sandy Hook shooting, but their 2013 income and expense report shows they raised only around $22,000 for the cause. Though other donations from the organization seem charitable—giving money to a homeless family and two victims of identity theft—those donations were taken from funds specifically solicited for other causes. These incidents show the importance of financial transparency, honesty with donors, and integrity needed to handle finances well.

Organizations should always act with integrity and foster accountability. Learn more in our Essential Guide to Church Financial Reporting eBook.

Firing a Minister Teacher

Judge Rules Religious School within Its Rights to Dismiss Two Teachers

In fall of 2012, a Christian school notified its teachers that they would need to provide a reference from a pastor offering an endorsement, information on the individual teacher’s church attendance, comments on the teacher’s views, and so on. Two teachers refused to do so and their teaching contracts with the school were not renewed. After suing the school over the loss of their jobs, a judge ruled that the school had the right to compel teachers to seek a pastoral recommendation under the First Amendment's religious freedom protections, according to the L. A. Times. The court ruled that though the school was not a nonprofit organization like a church, it was still protected because the teachers’ duties clearly included ministerial work, such as leading prayer, and the ministerial exception therefore applied.

Learn more about ministerial exemptions in wrongful termination cases in our article, “Ministerial Exemption Prevents Court from Resolving Lawsuit.”

Property Tax Win

Arizona Governor Approves Church Tax Break

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill into law that lowers property taxes churches must pay for leasing space in commercial buildings in the state. “The law sets a 1 percent property tax rate on space churches, temples, and other religious groups [lease from] commercial buildings,” according to the Phoenix Business Journal. This changes the property taxes on renting commercial space from the previous rate of 18.5 percent paid by most businesses.

Have your own space that you’d like to rent to an outside group? Let our experts answer your questions in our downloadable resource, Renting Worship Space.

Brother Sexual Abusers

Preaching Brothers Sentenced for Child Pornography

The second of two brothers has finally been sentenced for sexually exploiting girls in a Baptist youth group in Texas. The perpetrator has received a 15 year prison sentence.

The older of the two brothers was hired as a youth minister for the church, and his younger brother was given volunteer leadership responsibilities. The brothers used those positions to entice minor girls “to take pornographic pictures of themselves and share them with the brothers over the Internet,” according to Baptist News Global. The brothers were originally suspected after a family reported that their daughter had been molested by one of the brothers at a youth event in 2012.

We offer the Essential Guide to Youth Ministry Safety eBook so that your ministry can keep your youth safe and thriving.

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 @ChurchLawAndTax or on Facebook.

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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