Oklahoma Baptism Case • Sexual Abuse Lawsuit • Andy Savage Investigation: News Roundup
    This week’s headlines that affect churches and church leaders.
    Oklahoma Baptism Case • Sexual Abuse Lawsuit • Andy Savage Investigation: News Roundup
    Image: Anastasia Taioglou / Unsplash

    Oklahoma Supreme Court Asked to Review Online Baptism Announcement Case. “When churches face lawsuits, does their religious liberty hinge on whether or not their accuser is an official member? Experts are concerned that, in an unusual baptism gone wrong, a state supreme court has decided yes. Nearly a year ago, the Oklahoma Supreme Court decided 5–3 that a Muslim convert to Christianity—whose baptism nearly got him killed—couldn’t sue First Presbyterian Church in Tulsa for inadvertently alerting his would-be murderers with its online announcement of the baptism. Ten months later—in December 2017—the justices changed their minds, issuing a 5–4 decision that the man could, in fact, have his day in court. This month, First Presbyterian asked the Sooner State’s top court to take a third look at the case, arguing that the justices mixed up two separate issues of law: the ecclesiastical extension/church autonomy doctrine and the ministerial exception” (“After Baptism Gone Wrong, Court Weakens Church Protections,” Christianity Today).

    ManagingYourChurch.com initially covered the baptism case in this News Roundup. Read attorney Richard Hammar’s in-depth analysis of the case here.

    Sexual Abuse Lawsuit Adds Southern Baptist Convention as Defendant. “The Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, has been added as a defendant in a case alleging that a prominent layman and onetime Texas appeals court judge sexually abused a former office assistant over the course of several decades. In a court document filed Jan. 12 in the District Court of Harris County, Texas, plaintiff Gareld Duane Rollins Jr. of Houston added to the claims of his $1 million suit filed Oct. 18. The suit alleges that the SBC and other defendants should be considered liable for abetting or concealing Paul Pressler’s conduct through their denominational, professional or personal connections. The amended petition claims the SBC, along with others, ‘fraudulently misrepresented and continue to misrepresent to the public in word and deed, including to Plaintiff Rollins and his mother, that Pressler was a Godlike, sexually safe, moral, and great person of the earth who, as a Magistrate, worked God’s wisdom and thus would not be sexually dangerous to minors.’ Asked for a reaction to the new claims, Roger S. Oldham, spokesman for the SBC Executive Committee, said: ‘We are satisfied the allegations about the SBC in the amended complaint are without merit’” (“Southern Baptist Convention named in suit against prominent layman,” Religion News Service).

    Our newly revised Reducing the Risk training program can help you and your church put boundaries in place to prevent abuse from taking place.

    Protestors Call for Andy Savage’s Firing amid Investigation. “Protesters held up a smattering of signs in an attempt to push forward what they called ‘Justice for Jules’ outside Highpoint Church Monday [January 29]. ‘It’s time to stop being so concerned about the abuser and be more concerned about the abused,’ said Kenny Stubblefield, a survivor of church sexual abuse and local activist. It’s been three weeks since Jules Woodson wrote a narrative of her encounter with Pastor Andy Savage 20 years ago at their Texas church. She said the current Highpoint pastor was then her youth pastor. She said he offered her a ride home and forced her to perform oral sex. ‘I was in shock. I didn’t understand what was happening,’ Woodson said in an interview with CBS News. ‘I never sought to cover it up,’ Savage said while speaking from the pulpit January 7. Savage got a standing ovation after that speech where he asked for forgiveness. . . . Savage is now on paid administrative leave while a church lawyer evaluates his work” (“Church sexual abuse survivors call for firing of Pastor Andy Savage,” WREG).

    Read more about the Andy Savage case in the January 17 News Roundup.

    California Court Dismisses Suit by Parents of Unvaccinated and Partly Vaccinated Children. “In Middleton v. Pan, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13254 . . . a California federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendations . . . and dismissed a suit brought by a large number of parents of unvaccinated or partly vaccinated children objecting to California's Senate Bill 277, which repealed the state's personal belief exemption from immunization requirements for children entering public and private schools” (“Repeal of California’s Belief Exemption to Vaccination Is Upheld,” Religion Clause).

    Learn more about the unvaccinated movement in this Church Law & Tax Report article.

    Alabama Bill Expanding Self-Defense Laws in Churches Is Introduced. “An Alabama lawmaker wants protections for the use of deadly force to defend churches, and their parishioners. The bill—which expands the state’s self-defense law—says a person is presumed justified in the use of physical force if they reasonably believe someone is about to seriously harm someone inside a church. Republican Rep. Lynn Greer, the bill’s sponsor, on Wednesday [January 24] cited deadly church shootings in Tennessee and South Carolina, as he urged the House Judiciary Committee to approve the bill this session” (“Alabama bill would extend Stand your Ground law to churches,” WHNT 19 News).

    Evaluate your church’s security efforts with this downloadable resource.

    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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