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Church Law & Tax Report

May/June 2019
Articles with a Member Access Only are available only to members.

Feature Article

Who Can Sign Church Documents?

Who Can Sign Church Documents? Member access only

A court case in South Carolina offers insights and warnings for giving signatory authority.


Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches, with Richard R. Hammar
New Jersey
Sexual Misconduct by Clergy, Lay Employees, and Volunteers

Pastor Sentenced to Prison for “Sexting” Member access only

A New Jersey appeals court affirmed the prison sentence of a pastor who engaged in “sexting” and sexual contact with 14-year-old-girl.
Sexual Misconduct by Clergy, Lay Employees, and Volunteers

Church Volunteer Given 35-Year Prison Sentence for Raping a Minor Member access only

Case illustrates the importance of adopting, and enforcing, a “two-adult rule” that prohibits church employees and volunteers from being alone with a single minor.
Child Abuse Reporting; Sexual Misconduct by Clergy, Lay Employees, and Volunteers

Church School Could be Liable for Failure to Comply with State Child Abuse Reporting Law Member access only

A church can be liable on the basis of negligence for an employee’s acts of child molestation if it was aware of prior acts of molestation but failed to report them to the agency designated by state law.
Personal Injuries on Church Property or During Church Activities

Church Not Liable for Injuries Sustained by Teen at Youth Event Member access only

Case demonstrates the difficulty of proving negligence claims for injuries caused by “open and obvious” hazards unless concealed by a distraction such as darkness.
Church Members; Defamation

First Amendment Bars Court from Resolving Dismissed Member’s Lawsuit Member access only

The ecclesiastical abstention doctrine prevents courts from reviewing disputes concerning “theological controversy, church discipline, ecclesiastical government, or the conformity of the members of the church to the standard of morals required.”
Employment Practices

Church’s Director of Music Was a “Minister” for Purposes of the Ministerial Exception Member access only

Court could not resolve director of music's discrimination lawsuit against the church following his demotion.
New Jersey
Employment Practices

Churches May Fire an Employee for Violating Moral Standards If Done Consistently Member access only

The dismissal of an employee for violating a church’s moral teachings may expose a church to liability.
Defamation; Sexual Harassment; Sexual Misconduct by Clergy, Lay Employees, and Volunteers

Church Protected by “Qualified Privilege” from Defamation Claims by Minister Member access only

Court concluded that there is an “absolute First Amendment protection for statements made by church members in an internal church disciplinary proceeding,”
Clergy - Discipline and Removal; Sexual Harassment

Court Barred from Settling Sexual Harassment Claim Member access only

First Amendment prevents the civil courts from applying employment laws to the relationship between a church and a minister.
Clergy - Discipline and Removal

Court Can’t Resolve a Dismissed Minister’s Breach of Contract Claim Member access only

The ministerial exception “bars the government from interfering with the decision of a religious group to fire one of its ministers.”
Church Property

Church Loses Land Title by “Adverse Possession” Member access only

A church lost title by adverse possession to a portion of its property that was openly and continuously used by a neighboring landowner for several years without objection.
Charitable Contributions

Donors Can Sue for Improper Use of Restricted Funds Member access only

Contributions were not used as per their wishes, say donors.