Festival Founder Arrested • FEMA Policy Upheld • Cemetery Controversy: News Roundup
This week’s headlines that affect churches and church leaders.
Festival Founder Arrested • FEMA Policy Upheld • Cemetery Controversy: News Roundup
Image: Yvette de Wit / Unsplash

Founder of Largest US Christian Music Festival Arrested on Child Molestation Charges. “The man who launched America’s largest and longest-running Christian music festival has been ‘indefinitely suspended’ from the ministry and his church following his arrest Wednesday on charges of child molestation. Harry L. Thomas, founder of the Creation Festival and senior pastor of Come Alive New Testament Church in Medford, New Jersey, has been accused of sexually assaulting four children over a 16-year period between 1999 and 2015. The church stated that the alleged misconduct was ‘unrelated’ to his leadership. Thomas, 74, has been charged with one count of aggravated sexual assault, three counts of sexual assault, and four counts of endangering the welfare of children, according to the prosecutor’s office in Burlington County, New Jersey, where Thomas lives and where his church is located. Authorities have refrained from releasing further details in order to protect the identity of the victims. ‘All persons are considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law,’ stated the prosecutor’s office. It noted that Thomas was ‘being treated at a medical facility’ while a case was prepared for ‘possible indictment’ by a grand jury” (“Creation Festival Founder Arrested for Alleged Child Molestation,” Christianity Today).

Implement the newly revised Reducing the Risk awareness program to help decrease the likelihood of a child being harmed at your church.

Texas Court Upholds FEMA Policy Barring Relief Grants to Religious Facilities. “In Harvest Family Church v. Federal Emergency Management Agency . . . a Texas federal district court refused to issue a preliminary injunction against a FEMA Policy Guideline that bars disaster relief grants to facilities that are used primarily for religious activities. (The Guideline also bars grants to facilities used primarily for political, athletic, recreational, vocational, or academic activities.) The court concluded that plaintiff had not shown a substantial likelihood of success on its Free Exercise challenge to the Guideline. It held that the case is governed not by the U.S. Supreme Court's Trinity Lutheran decision, but instead by the Supreme Court's decision in Locke v. Davey” (“Court Upholds FEMA Policy Denying Disaster Grants to Religious Facilities,” Religion Clause).

Read more about the initial lawsuit in this September 2017 blog post, and read more about the implications of the Trinity Lutheran decision here.

New Jersey Legislation Forbidding Headstone Sales Stirs Controversy. “A federal judge is weighing whether to scrap a state law barring private religious cemeteries from selling headstones after the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark and the state clashed on Wednesday in court over the legislation. U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp said from the bench in Trenton that he would issue a written ruling, expected early next year. The dispute goes back to 2013, when the archdiocese expanded its inscription rights program, the proceeds from which it used to care for cemeteries. Under the program, the church offered the option for a headstone but retained ownership of it in perpetuity. The idea was that a bereaved family could write an inscription on a headstone but the church would care for the headstone going forward. The Monument Builders Association of New Jersey, an advocacy group for people who make headstones and other funerary monuments, soon sued, arguing the church's tax-exempt status and relationship with parishioners gave it an unfair advantage. The group lost in court” (“Catholic Church, State Clash on Law Barring Headstone Sales,” U.S. News & World Report).

Learn about tax exemptions and other legal issues for churches in our Legal Library.

Workplaces Should Prepare for Harassment Claims in Light of Publicized Allegations. “Expect Hollywood’s sexual misconduct epidemic to ripple across industries. Employers should brace for a surge in sexual harassment claims in its wake. A-list actresses and congresswomen publicizing their workplace harassment stories are forcing government and business to reassess their related policies and procedures. Make sure your company’s zero-tolerance sexual harassment policy is clear. Ditto with nonretaliation. Workers need to know their jobs are safe if they complain. Training for everyone, even top execs, is a must. Recognizing inappropriate behavior is paramount. Teach managers to fairly adjudicate complaints to mitigate liability” (Kiplinger Letter, November 9).

Find help drafting effective harassment policies for your church in this article.

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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