This week’s headlines that affect churches and church leaders.
Synagogue Shooter Charged with Hate Crimes. “Federal prosecutors have filed hate crime charges against a Pennsylvania man they say stormed a Pittsburgh synagogue and opened fire, killing 11 people. Robert Bowers, 46, of suburban Baldwin, surrendered to authorities after Saturday morning's shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue. He made anti-Semitic statements during the shooting and targeted Jews on social media, according to a federal law enforcement official. Bowers faces 29 charges in a rampage that left the historic Jewish neighborhood of Squirrel Hill and the rest of the nation stunned. The attack is believed to be the deadliest on the Jewish community in US history, the Anti-Defamation League said in a statement. … Bowers is charged with 11 counts of using a firearm to commit murder and multiple counts of two hate crimes: obstruction of the exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death and obstruction of the exercise of religious beliefs resulting in bodily injury to a public safety officer, authorities said, citing a sealed criminal complaint” (“Hate crime charges filed in Pittsburgh synagogue shooting that left 11 dead,” CNN).
Kentucky Shooter First Tried Entering Church. “A white man charged with shooting and killing two African-Americans at a Kroger supermarket in Kentucky last week had first tried to enter a predominantly African-American church, police say. Gregory Bush, 51, was charged with killing Maurice Stallard, 69, and Vickie Lee Jones, 67, at the supermarket in Jeffersontown, Kentucky, a suburb of Louisville. As more information about the Wednesday [October 24] attack and its alleged perpetrator have emerged, there are indications that Bush chose his targets because of the color of their skin. Federal investigators are looking into the fatal shootings as ‘potential civil rights violations, such as hate crimes,’ Russell Coleman, the US attorney for the Western district of Kentucky, said in a statement.
“Police say that just a few minutes before heading to the Kroger, Bush first tried to get into the First Baptist Church of Jeffersontown, a predominantly African-American church. Jeffersontown Police Chief Sam Rogers told reporters that surveillance video showed Bush yanking on the church doors. If Bush had come to the church an hour earlier that day, some 70 people would have been gathered there, and the door might have been unlocked, the Courier-Journal reported” (“Killing of 2 at Kentucky Supermarket Is Being Investigated as Hate Crime,” NPR).
Both of these tragic incidents illustrate the important need for safety plans and for churches to adequately manage the risk of violence at church, including an active-shooter incident. These resources can help:
What’s next for the housing allowance case? “Attorneys representing both sides of the clergy housing allowance challenge currently under appeal made oral arguments on Wednesday to a three-judge panel with the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago. Now the waiting begins. An immediate decision is not anticipated, but observers expect one by early 2019. At stake in the case is a 64-year-old tax benefit worth nearly $1 billion for clergy. In late 2017, a federal district judge in Wisconsin ruled the benefit to be an unconstitutional preference for religion after the coleaders of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), a 501(c)(3) atheist organization, challenged it” (“UPDATE: Oral Arguments Completed in Clergy Housing Allowance Challenge,” ChurchLawAndTax.com).
To read more analysis of the possible outcomes and process this case could take, read the full article (currently unlocked) by editor Matthew Branaugh.
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Samuel Ogles is associate editor and special project manager for Church Law & Tax.