Shark Tank: Will Your Church Be Safe? – Part 1

July 17, 2014

How churches, ministries and religious schools can prepare for legal attacks . . .

Is your church or denomination safe from damaging legal attack?  What about your favorite religious ministry or charity?  What about religious schools training future leaders your church needs—are they safe?  Or will they be crippled by anti-religious legal attacks?

Churches, ministries, and faith-based schools today live in a shark tank of anti-religious bigotrythat can mean legal and financial ruin unless they take legal steps now to protect themselves.

And that’s where Liberty Institute is helping dozens—and soon, hundreds—of religious institutions of all types and sizes.       


“All are at risk:  in addition to churches and synagogues, faith-based charities, orphanages, shelters, sororities, fraternities, and companies,”says Matthew Kacsmaryk, Deputy General Counsel and Managing Director of Direct Litigation, Research, and Education for Liberty Institute.

Mr. Kacsmaryk warns that churches and faith-based organizations are vulnerable to attack by litigious individuals and organizations that are offended by traditional religious viewpoints and seeking to litigate employment or discrimination claims in furtherance of a larger political or cultural agenda.

Liberty Institute is assisting more than 25 faith-based organizations—including churches, adoption agencies, educational institutions, and ministries—by offering a free-of-charge “Religious Liberties Audit.”  He says, “Reviewing articles of incorporation, employment manuals, discipline policies, and other corporate documents, we try to identify any risk exposure.” 

Organizations that have already retained legal counsel may nonetheless benefit from a “Religious Liberties Audit” because Liberty Institute attorneys are trained to identify risks and develop solutions unique to their practice.  Mr. Kacsmaryk notes, “Lawyers trained in corporate or employment law may miss risks and solutions arising under the Establishment Clause, Free Exercise Clause, Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, and various state laws.”

Anti-religious organizations are aggressive: they use Establishment Clause challenges, employment challenges, anti-discrimination challenges, and more.  Liberty Institute attorneys pour over the corporate DNA of a faith-based organization, looking for weaknesses:

  • What if an employee is terminated for immoral behavior and sues you? 
  • What if your religious schools declines to hire an applicant because her lifestyle or beliefs are antithetical to the affiliated church? 
  • What if a hostile anti-religious organization attempts to plant an infiltrator in your ministry and you refuse them? 
  • What if your church exercises church discipline and is sued?
  • What if an atheist demands to join your religious sorority and sues when they are turned down?

All these and more can seriously damage your organization.


“You might be surprised,” says Mr. Kacsmaryk, “many churches don’t have robust written statements of faith, mission statements, or rules for how they operate, how they hire, how they discipline, and how they remove members.”

For ministries, he says, “We make certain that an organization expressly states that it is motivated by sincerely held religious beliefs and provides detailed explanations of those beliefs.”  Mr. Kacsmaryk warns, “If your religious organization lacks written statements of faith and fails to explain its beliefs in writing, Liberty Institute cannot easily defend your faith and beliefs in court.”

Today, the most common risk exposure involves the controversial topics of marriage and sexuality.  Mr. Kacsmaryk asserts, “With the rise of sexuality-specific anti-discrimination statutes and policies, churches need to expressly state their sincerely held religious beliefs so that they’re not later accused of a pretextual act of discrimination.”

What changes need to be made in such a case?

“Faith-based organizations need to flesh out what they believe with particularity before the infiltrator knocks on the church door, before the lawsuit is filed,” he says.  Many churches, faith-based organizations, and interdenominational charities lack the written statements of faith and policies necessary to defend a religious-liberties case: “Again, you’d be surprised by the large number of churches, faith-based organizations, and interdenominational clubs that lack written definitions of marriage, Christian sexual ethics, or procedures for disciplining or pastoring members who find themselves outside the boundaries of the organization’s rules and policies.” 

Through the Religious Liberties Audit process, Liberty Institute attorneys “seek to get those beliefs written down, codified, and enforced so that you’re not left without litigation exhibits if the time comes to defend your church.”  As an example, Mr. Kacsmaryk notes that the plaintiffs in the Hobby Lobbycase—the Green and Hahn families—had well written statements of faith on file when the HHS mandate threatened their sincerely held religious beliefs: “it is difficult to litigate a Hobby Lobbyvictory without Hobby Lobbyexhibits.”

Read part two of “Shark Tank:  Will Your Church Be Safe?” in the next edition of Liberty Watch e-newsletter.

To inquire about a religious liberty audit, click here for the legal request form or call Liberty Institute at 972.941.4444.

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About Liberty Institute
Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches, in the military and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our nation’s Founders. For information, visit

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