Atlanta Fire Chief Fights Back • Caught on Tape • Fire and Swastikas: News Roundup
    This week's news headlines that affect churches
    Atlanta Fire Chief Fights Back • Caught on Tape • Fire and Swastikas: News Roundup

    Former Atlanta Fire Chief Fights Back

    Fired Atlanta Fire Chief Sues City

    Kelvin Cochran, former fire chief of Atlanta, Georgia, has filed a lawsuit against the city claiming that he was fired due to his religious beliefs. Cochran previously made news for being fired over his religious beliefs concerning the immorality of homosexuality.

    A deacon in his Baptist church, Cochran wrote a devotional book for men. In that devotional, Cochran wrote several passages that condemned sexual relations outside of traditional marriage, including homosexuality. The book was distributed to some city officials as a personal gift from Cochran and to others who requested a copy or who Cochran knew were self-identifying Christians. An openly gay member of city government, however, learned of the material and brought it to the attention of the city's human resources department.

    Cochran was suspended and investigated, and the mayor determined that Cochran could no longer effectively lead potentially diverse groups of employees given his expressed views, essentially calling into question the line between private faith and a public vocation. Cochran's lawsuit fights the mayor's decision by claiming "a religious or ideological test cannot be used to fire a public servant" (Baptist News Global).

    Legalizing Clergy Conscience

    Pastors in Oklahoma May Get Immunity in Gay Rights Lawsuits

    A bill that was overwhelmingly approved (88-7) in Oklahoma's state House of Representatives earlier this month seeks to "protect clergy members from any civil claim or cause of action if they refuse to preside over or recognize a marriage of same-sex couples because of their conscience or religious beliefs," according to Charisma News. The bill now needs to pass the state's Senate before it could be signed into law, though gay rights advocacy groups have promised to challenge the measure if that happens.

    The bill was sponsored by Republican Representative David Brumbaugh who said, "It's not about discrimination or anything like that, it's just that we want to make sure [clergy] were protected."

    Our senior editorial advisor, Richard R. Hammar, has previously written in Church Law and Tax Report answering "Are We Required to Perform or Host Same-Sex Marriage Ceremonies?"

    Fire and Swastikas

    Florida Church Falls Victim to Hate Crime after Vandals Set Fire, Spray-Paint Swastikas and 'Allahu Akbar' on Walls

    Last week, a Florida church was the victim of arson and vandalism—both spray painted swastikas and the Islamic phrase "Allahu Akbar." Investigators believe the vandalism may constitute a hate crime.

    The senior pastor, Jacquelyn Gordon, was saddened but forgiving about the incident. "It's sad that a person or people would set a church on fire of all places. It's a scary feeling that people still display this kind of hatred! But as I have stated, 'God is love' and we still love and forgive them" (The Christian Post).

    Caught on Tape

    Two Teens Arrested for Vandalism Caught on Video at Denver Church

    Two teens were arrested in connection with vandalism of a statue at a Catholic church in Denver, Colorado. The church's security cameras, installed after two previous vandalism and theft incidents, caught two teens in the act. The video shows them bashing the church statue with a hammer. ABC7News Denver has the security camera video and more of the story.

    For more details on church security of your property, see our downloadable resource Preventing Crime on Church Property.

    Writing Checks the Church Body Can't Cash

    Former Church Secretary Stole More Than $21K from Parish, Say Authorities

    A former church secretary has been taken into custody on suspicion of fraud totaling more than $21,000. She served the church for over 15 years and is believed to have stolen funds over a six-year period, mostly by forging the pastor's signature and issuing checks to herself that exceeded her salary.

    The process of discovering the fraud only happened after the Internal Revenue Service placed a $37,000 levy against the church's bank account for unpaid state and federal payroll taxes. The church's total tax liability stemming from the fraud has been estimated to be between $75,000 and $120,000.

    Church officials responded immediately by hiring an outside accounting firm to address the issue. The accounting firm planned to help the church "establish a system of checks and balances to ensure this problem will never happen again," according to a church statement obtained by Litchfield Independent Review.

    To address the issue of fraud, review our Essential Guide to Internal Controls for Churches resource outlining the best tips and information for safeguarding your church's finances.

    And the Copper Goes to…

    Thieves Target Indianapolis Church

    Trinity CME Church in Indianapolis, Indiana, faces losses of approximately $40,000 after thieves stole two large air conditioning units and copper piping from a third unit. In January, a neighboring church also found their air conditioner was missing.

    The recent thefts have left the community frustrated. "I remember a time when they wouldn't dare steal from a church," said Charles McIntyre of Trinity CME Church. "But nowadays, people just don't care" (WTHR Indiana).

    For more help on with your church's security measures, see our downloadable resource, Securing Church Property.

    'Bad' Stewards Get Sued

    Members Sue Philadelphia Church Officers Over Finances

    In a suit filed against their church officers earlier this month, members of Zion Baptist Church allege that the officers "have not been good stewards of the church's assets," according to Philadelphia news site The suit also claims that their former pastor, Carl Prince, was wrongfully terminated after he questioned how leadership handled church finances in the past.

    The suit alleges that the church treasurer, the clerk, certain board members, and the chairman of both the deacon and trustee boards were all to blame for the poor stewardship. The lawsuit claims that they "engaged in subterfuge and deception in order to mask and conceal acts of misappropriation, conversion, and misuse of church assets and abuse of defendants' position of trust."

    For more information on the roles, limits, and good stewardship of church boards' duties, see our Essential Guide to Liabilities and Duties for Church Boards.

    We're always preparing the best and fastest ways to bring you the news. 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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