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Are Churches and Affiliated Organizations Separate Entities?

A church and its affiliate may be considered a "single employer."

Key point. There are several legal defenses available to a denominational agency that is sued as a result of the acts or obligations of affiliated clergy and churches. These include a lack of temporal control over clergy and churches; a lack of official notice of a minister's prior wrongdoing in accordance with the denomination's governing documents; lack of an agency relationship; the prohibition by the First Amendment of any attempt by the civil courts to impose liability on religious organizations in a way that would threaten or alter their polity; and elimination or modification of the principle of joint and several liability.

A New York court ruled that a church and an affiliated education center could be treated as a "single employer," and therefore the church was jointly liable for the acts and obligations of the center. A church operated an "educational center" through which it conducted ...

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  • November 1, 2010