4.Zoning (4.9% of cases). Many of these cases involve claims under the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA" or "the Act"). RLUIPA was enacted by unanimous consent of both the Senate and House of Representatives in 2000. It addresses two areas where religious freedom had been threatened: (1) land-use regulation, and (2) persons in prisons, mental hospitals, nursing homes, and similar institutions.
RLUIPA specifies that state and local governments cannot subject religious organizations to a "land use regulation" that imposes a substantial burden on the free exercise of religion unless the law is supported by a compelling governmental interest. The courts have reached conflicting conclusions regarding the application of RLUIPA, and the meaning of a "substantial burden on religious exercise."
5. Insurance coverage disputes (4.5% of cases). It's common for churches and their insurers to end up in court, often in a declaratory judgment action, in which a court is asked to determine if coverage is available under a church's policy for a particular claim. Common kinds of coverage disputes include the intentional misconduct exclusion, the employment practices exclusion, the duty of prompt notification, and misrepresentations on the application for insurance.
Church leaders should review their policies with their insurance agents to understand what is covered, what isn't covered, and what special types of coverage must be obtained. Senior church leadership should handle insurance applications, or at least review them, to make sure careless mistakes aren't made that might be later viewed as "misrepresentations on the application for insurance."
For more help with understanding these issues or preventing them, check out these resources:
- Reducing The Risk: Keeping Your Ministry Safe From Child Sexual Abuse, 3rd Edition;
- Pastor, Church & Law, Volume 2: Church Property and Administration;
- Making Your Church Playground Safe
- Your Helpful Guide to Church Insurance
Richard Hammar is an attorney, CPA, and the senior editorial advisor to Church Law & Tax.
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