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Church Law & Tax Report

July/August 2007
Articles with a Member Access Only are available only to members.

Feature Article

Church Lock-ins


Jesus Was Insured

Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches, with Richard R. Hammar
Child Abuse; Denominations - Legal Liability; Sexual Misconduct by Clergy, Lay Employees, and Volunteers

The "Bar Association" Analogy

A Minnesota court recognizes an important principle.
New York
Church Property

Determining Church Property Ownership  Member access only

Most church property disputes are resolved on the basis of neutral principles of law contained in deeds, local church charters and bylaws, and denominational bylaws.

Restraining Orders

A woman's right to be protected from abuse, harassment, and stalking outweighed her husband's perceived constitutional right to attend the church of his choice.
Clergy - Removal

Unlawful Termination

The civil courts have consistently ruled that the First Amendment prevents the civil courts from applying civil rights laws to the relationship between a church and a minister.
Clergy - Removal

Racial Discrimination

A federal district court in Georgia ruled that it was barred by the "ministerial exception" from resolving a dismissed minister's claim that his dismissal was a result of unlawful racial discrimination.

Music Copyright Infringement

The Copyright Act's religious services exemption does not apply to radio broadcasts of worship services.
South Carolina
Denominations - Legal Liability; Employment Practices

Discrimination Liability for Churches of Less Than 15 Employees

A federal district court in South Carolina ruled that only employers with at least 15 employees are subject to the nondiscrimination provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Denominations - Legal Liability; Employment Practices

Discrimination Lawsuit Time Limits

Federal courts will not resolve Title VII discrimination claims unless the aggrieved employee files a claim of discrimination with the EEOC within 180 days of the last discriminatory act.
Employment Practices; Sexual Misconduct by Clergy, Lay Employees, and Volunteers

Non-Ministers and Wrongful Termination Claims

A former church employee's job and duties did not trigger the ministerial exception, and a resolution of her wrongful discharge claim did not require the court to delve into religious doctrine.
Charitable Contributions

State Laws for Charitable Contributions

State laws prohibiting state employees from making charitable contributions through payroll deduction to religious organizations violates the First Amendment.
Personal Injuries on Church Property or During Church Activities

Church Liability for Injuries on Property

A Michigan court ruled that a church was not liable for injuries a woman sustained since it was an open and obvious hazard that should have been recognized.
Personal Injuries on Church Property or During Church Activities

Monetary Awards for Injury Lawsuits

A Louisiana court ruled that a $55,000 jury verdict in favor of an elderly woman who fell and broke her hip as a result of a defective floor mat was not unreasonably low.
North Carolina
Confidential and Privileged Communications; Criminal Liability

Clergy-Penitent Privilege in Court Cases

The clergy-penitent privilege may be lost if a counselee seeks out a minister for spiritual counsel in the presence of one or more third persons.
Confidential and Privileged Communications

Communication Between Pastors and Denominational Officers

Not every conversation between clergy and denominational officials is protected by the clergy-penitent privilege.
Confidential and Privileged Communications

Disclosing Confidential Statements in Court

A Military court ruled that a confession made by a soldier to his pastor was protected by the clergy-penitent privilege despite the presence of the soldier's wife during some of the counseling.

Child Care Licensing Requirements

Church-operated after school programs may be subject to licensing requirements imposed by state law.
Sexual Misconduct by Clergy, Lay Employees, and Volunteers

Selecting Ministers and Negligent Retention

A church may exercise reasonable care in selecting ministers or other church workers but still be responsible for their misconduct.
Sexual Misconduct by Clergy, Lay Employees, and Volunteers

Clergy and Sexual Assault

Ministers who engage in sexual contact with church employees or church members expose their church to potentially substantial liability.
New Jersey
Employment Practices; Workers Compensation

Workers Compensation Benefits

A New Jersey court denied workers compensation benefits to an employee of a church-operated charity on the ground that she left her job voluntarily without good cause.
Church Property; Zoning

Zoning Laws

The Vermont Supreme Court rejected an attempt by neighboring landowners to halt the construction of a cell phone tower on church property.


Q&A: How Should We Screen Minors Who Work with Children?

Assessing the suitability of underage volunteers.

Q&A: Can We Photocopy Song Booklets for Our Church? Member access only

The legal consequences of violating copyright law.