Civic Funds for Churches • Gay Student Sues over Dance • Public Split on Bathroom Views: News Roundup
This week’s headlines that affect churches and church leaders.
Civic Funds for Churches • Gay Student Sues over Dance • Public Split on Bathroom Views: News Roundup

Historic Churches Allowed to Use Town Funds for Renovations. “A Middlesex County Superior Court justice has ruled that the town of Acton, Massachusetts, can proceed with plans to use community preservation grants to renovate two churches. A national group that advocates for the separation of church and state filed a lawsuit on behalf of 13 Acton residents who say the town is improperly using taxpayer funds for religious purposes. At its April 4 Town Meeting, Acton approved $49,500 for Acton Congregational Church’s master plan for its three properties; $51,237 for that church’s stained-glass-window project; and $15,000 for South Acton Congregational Church’s roof. The properties date back to the 1800s and are located in historic districts. . . . [Justice Leila Kern] said that the court finds that the ‘purpose of the grants to the churches under the CPA is to preserve historic resources, and not to aid the Churches’” (“Public Grants Can Be Used for Church Renovations, Judge Rules,” The Boston Globe).

The Supreme Court’s Upcoming Church and State Case. “Some noteworthy cases the Supreme Court will hear in its new term that begins Monday [October 3]:

“Church-state separation: A Missouri church is challenging its exclusion from a state program that reimburses groups for installing rubberized surfaces on playgrounds. The Trinity Lutheran Church's application for a grant was highly rated, but state officials said a provision of the Missouri Constitution bars them from giving public money to a church” (“Supreme Court: Some Noteworthy Cases Coming up in New Term,” ABC News).

Senior editor and attorney Richard Hammar covers the “Top 5 Reasons Religious Organizations Went to Court in 2015” in an online article and infographic.

Religious School Sued for Barring Gay Student from Bringing Male Date to Dance. “After trying unsuccessfully to take a male date to his homecoming dance in Memphis, Tennessee, a former student is suing his Catholic high school under Title IX, arguing it had unlawfully discriminated against him on the basis of his sexual orientation.
. . .
“With his lawsuit, filed Tuesday [September 20] in Circuit Court, Sanderson is seeking up to $1 million from CBHS [Christian Brothers High School] on several state and federal claims—including breach of contract, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent training, and a violation under Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments. Title IX—the landmark civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded education programs and activities—does not explicitly bar such discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. However, the Obama administration in addition to a growing body of case law has made clear LGBTQ students are protected under the law as well” (“Gay Student Sues School after He Couldn’t Bring Boy to Homecoming,” NBC News).

Public Opinion Split on Religious Objection and Bathroom Use Issues. “The survey of more than 4,500 US adults explores recent controversies that have pitted claims of religious liberty and traditional morality against civil rights and nondiscrimination policies. And it finds that Americans are more closely divided on two other hotly debated questions: whether businesses should be able to refuse service to same-sex couples, and whether transgender people should be required to use particular restrooms. About half of US adults (49%) say businesses that provide wedding services, such as catering or flowers, should be required to provide those services to same-sex couples as they would for any other couple. But a nearly equal share (48%) say businesses should be able to refuse services to same-sex couples if the business owner has religious objections to homosexuality. And in the debate over bathroom use by transgender people, roughly half of Americans (51%) say transgender people should be allowed to use public restrooms of the gender with which they currently identify, while nearly as many (46%) say transgender individuals should be required to use restrooms of the gender they were born into” (“Where the Public Stands on Religious Liberty vs. Nondiscrimination,”

Church Law & Tax asked nonprofit lawyer and editorial advisor Stuart Lark “How Does State Affect Church—Really?

Church That Gave Misleading Statements in Abuse Case Accused of Deeper Abuse History. “The FOX31 Problem Solvers first reported last week that [Agape Bible Church] associate pastor Robert ‘Bob’ Wyatt turned himself into police. He is accused of sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl at the church over a period of two years. After police documents were released, the Problem Solvers reported Agape’s head pastor, Darrell Ferguson, might have known about Wyatt’s alleged crime and did not report it to police. Ferguson said under Colorado law he was not legally obligated to report the suspected crime because the information was divulged during a confidential counseling session. Now former church members said they believe Ferguson and Agape have a history of abuse and covering it up. A police report filed in Douglas County in 2014 alleges Ferguson’s son was involved in a sexting incident with at least three girls in the church’s youth group dating back to 2012” (“Former Agape Bible Church Members Say They’re Abuse Victims,” FOX31).

It is absolutely critical that churches have a child sexual abuse prevention policy in place. Not only can the abuse devastate individuals and communities, but child sexual abuse continues to be the top reason churches go to court.

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 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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