Oklahoma Laws • Southern Baptist Controversy • Exempt Status: News Roundup
    This week’s headlines that affect churches and church leaders.
    Oklahoma Laws • Southern Baptist Controversy • Exempt Status: News Roundup
    Image: Gerson Repreza / Unsplash
    Oklahoma City, OK

    Oklahoma Passes Two Laws Affecting Church Security, Ten Commandments Displays. “[T]he Oklahoma legislature sent two bills to Gov. Mary Fallin for her signature. HB 2177 authorizes the display of the Ten Commandments and other historical documents on public property. The bill (full text) provides in part: ‘Every county, municipality, city, town, school or any other political subdivision is authorized to display, in its public buildings and on its grounds, replicas of historical documents including, but not limited to, the Ten Commandments, Magna Carta, Mayflower Compact, Declaration of Independence, United States Constitution, Bill of Rights, Oklahoma Constitution and other historically significant documents in the form of statues, monuments, memorials, tablets or any other display that respects the dignity and solemnity of such documents. Such documents shall be displayed in a manner consistent with the context of other documents contained in such display.’ In 2015, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held that a Ten Commandments monument on the statehouse grounds violates the Oklahoma Constitution. . . . The legislature also sent the Governor HB2632. The bill (full text) gives Oklahomans the same right in places of worship that they now have in homes and businesses to resist intruders by the use of deadly force” (“Oklahoma Legislature Passes 10 Commandments and ‘Stand Your Ground’ in Church Laws,” Religion Clause).

    Learn more about responding to security threats with this downloadable resource.

    Southern Baptist Leader Faces Backlash, Calls for Dismissal After Domestic Abuse Comments. “A prominent Southern Baptist leader faces demands for his dismissal after women from his own denomination reacted angrily to the news that he once advised abused women to pray for their husbands and gave a sermon in which he defended a lewd remark about a teenage girl as ‘biblical.’ Paige Patterson, president of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, has denied having condoned marital abuse. He has so far declined to apologize for his past comments and is still scheduled to speak at an upcoming Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Dallas. . . . More than 2,000 Southern Baptist women have signed an open letter saying they are ‘shocked’ by Patterson's comments on divorce and sexuality and warning Southern Baptist Convention leaders not to allow ‘the biblical view of leadership to be misused in such a way that a leader with an unbiblical view of authority, womanhood, and sexuality be allowed to continue in leadership’” (“Southern Baptist Women Are 'Shocked' By Church Leader's Comments,” NPR).

    Domestic violence has been the leading cause of deadly incidents at churches—read about how your church can respond and take action in this article.

    Mississippi Public Service Commissioner Advises Churches to Ensure Their Exempt Status. “[Jackson, Mississippi’s] Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley is asking Mississippi churches and places of worship to check their utility bills to see if they are paying sales tax. If they are, he wants to assist in getting those charges taken off. Mississippi churches are exempt from paying state sales tax on the purchase of electricity, natural gas, water, among other utilities, though some churches may be unaware. . . . To take advantage of the exemption, the church must provide a copy of their IRS determination letter certifying that they are exempt from federal income taxation under IRC Section 501(c)(3) to each of their utility companies” (“Presley Alerts Churches of Sales Tax Exemption on Utility Bills,” WTVA.com).

    In the latest column from experienced executive pastor David Fletcher, a church’s new pastor wonders, “Are we tax exempt?”

    Data Shows Surprising Trends in US Church Attendance over 60 Years.[W]e were curious about how America’s religiosity had evolved over the 60-plus years since the first National Day of Prayer. Recognizing the distinction between church attendance and prayer, we looked at data from the Association of Religion Data Archives to assess how church membership has evolved over the event’s history—with an eye toward geographic changes. That data suggested an interesting trend: Big swaths of the middle of the country show a higher density of the population attended church than 60 years prior, with declines in that density in the northeast and Midwest. This runs counter to our understanding of how church attendance has evolved. We tend to believe, thanks to research like Pew’s, that church attendance has waned. (From 2007 to 2014, the percentage of Americans who reported attending services at least monthly dropped from 54 to 50.) . . . In fact, the number of counties where church attendance increased since 1952 as a function of population is distributed fairly evenly, with slightly more counties seeing increased density in church attendance than decreases” (“How church attendance has evolved geographically over the past 60 years,” The Washington Post).

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    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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