The Tax Law and Churches • Cardinal’s Controversial Funeral • Guns in Texas Churches: News Roundup
    This week’s headlines that affect churches and church leaders.
    The Tax Law and Churches • Cardinal’s Controversial Funeral • Guns in Texas Churches: News Roundup

    The Tax Law’s Effects on Churches and Pastors. The GOP Tax Bill Just Passed. Here’s What Church Leaders Need to Know. “On December 20, the Republican bill overhauling the tax code passed a final vote in the House and went to President Trump’s desk. [President Trump signed the bill into law on December 22.] What implications does the new bill have for churches and church leaders, and what do they need to be aware of as they plan for 2018? To help answer these questions, we reached out to three experts on tax topics.”

    To read more on the tax bill and churches, see our piece The GOP Tax Bill Just Passed. Here’s What Church Leaders Need to Know.” For all things tax-related for fiscal year 2017, see the 2018 Church & Clergy Tax Guide.

    Guns Allowed in Texas Churches. “Unless churches in Texas expressly forbid them, loaded guns can legally be taken into houses of worship by anyone licensed to the carry them in the state, Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a legal opinion. ‘If a church decides to exclude the concealed or open carrying of handguns on the premises of church property, it may provide the requisite notice, thereby making it an offense for a license holder to carry a handgun on those premises,’ Paxton wrote in his opinion requested by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick earlier this month. Patrick, who like Paxton is a Republican seeking a second term next year, asked for the opinion in the wake of the November 5 shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs that left 25 worshipers dead, including a pregnant woman whose baby did not survive” (“Loaded guns are OK in Texas churches following Sutherland Springs shooting, says AG,” USA Today).

    A troubling connection exists between violence at church and domestic abuse. Read one of this year’s best pieces on, Why Domestic Violence in the Home Endangers Your Church.

    Pastor and Politician Accused of Sexual Assault Commits Suicide. “Dan Johnson posted a final message to his friends and family Wednesday afternoon [December 20] on Facebook. It appeared to be a goodbye. In it, Johnson denied the accusations that had tormented him and his family for the past 48 hours—that he, a Kentucky state representative and the self-proclaimed ‘Pope’ of his Louisville church [where he was a pastor], had gotten drunk and molested a 17-year-old girl during a sleepover years ago. … The apparent suicide of a well-known local figure was another dark and dramatic turn in the nation’s reckoning with sexual assault and harassment, with near-daily revelations about powerful men leading to sudden falls from positions of power in entertainment, business, the media, and politics. Many of those cases have led to denials, resignations, and apologies; although Johnson denied the allegations, some think they pushed him over the edge” (“A lawmaker accused of molesting a teen killed himself. His widow calls it a ‘high-tech lynching.’” The Washington Post).

    See our free quiz on pastoral liability for sexual misconduct.

    Pope Presides over Cardinal Law’s Controversial Funeral. “Pope Francis offered a short benediction at the funeral Thursday of Cardinal Bernard Law, a move that disappointed some sex-abuse survivors who said the pontiff should not dignify the former Boston archbishop who resigned in disgrace over the Catholic Church's sex-abuse scandal. Francis' participation in the ceremony fueled the controversy over a decision to grant Law a full cardinal's funeral at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.

    “Law, who died early Wednesday [December 20] in Rome following a long illness, became a symbol of the sex-abuse scandal after a Boston Globe investigation revealed that he and other bishops had covered up child abuse by priests in the Boston Archdiocese” (“Pope’s role in disgraced cardinal’s funeral draws outrage,” CNN).

    Court Rules for Pension Exemption. “The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver agreed Tuesday [December 19] with Catholic Health Initiatives' right to have a church-plan exemption for its pension plan, upholding a lower court's dismissal of a class-action lawsuit challenging it. The ruling is the first issued since the Supreme Court decided unanimously on June 5 in a similar case involving three health-care system retirement plan sponsors — Dignity Health, Advocate Health Care, and Saint Peter's Healthcare System — that they are covered by an exemption for church-affiliated plans from the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, even though the plan was not established by a church” (“Appeals court upholds dismissal of church-plan challenge,”

    Child sexual abuse continues to be a serious issue in both Catholic and Protestant churches. Our newly revised Reducing the Risk training program helps churches prepare for this important threat.

    Contraceptive Exemption Halted by Federal Court. “In State of California v. Health and Human Services, (ND CA, Dec. 21, 2017), a California federal district court issued a nationwide preliminary injunction against enforcement of the Trump Administration's Interim Final Rules issued in October (see prior posting) expanding exemptions from the ACA contraceptive coverage mandate for those with religious or moral objections. … Last week another federal district court issued a similar preliminary injunction. (“Another Court Enjoins Expanded Exemptions From Contraceptive Coverage Mandate,” Religion Clause).

    Samuel Ogles is associate editor and special project manager 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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