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Shark Tank: Will Your Church Be Safe? – Part 2

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July 31, 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 bigotry that 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.

Read more from part 2 of this series highlighting Liberty Institute’s free-of-charge “Religious Liberty Audit” to help churches, schools and faith-based organizations. . .       

NOT SAFE TO ASSUME

Many organizations are floating on a sea of false security, waiting to be capsized.  A Christian fraternity or sorority, for example, may understand and declare in written statements that the Bible is the first and final authority on all questions of belief and behavior, but if their policies stop there, it’s not enough.  

If the fraternity or sorority fails to specify in writing its beliefs on marriage, sexuality, gender identity, abortion, and other contentious issues, it may inadvertently admit dissenters who think they are compliant with “the Bible,” but seek to counter-witness against the longstanding beliefs of the organization.  As social and theological consensus erodes, greater specificity is required.

Matthew Kacsmaryk, Deputy General Counsel and Managing Director of Direct Litigation, Research, and Education for Liberty Institute, states, “Liberty Institute cannot easily defend an organization that failed to put people on notice of its expectations and requirements.  You can search the headlines:  Christian sororities and fraternities have this problem over and over again, particularly in the area of marriage, sexuality, and gender identity. It is no longer safe to assume that someone who pledges fidelity to Jesus Christ and signs a generic statement of biblical authority is in lockstep agreement with your organization’s definition of marriage, understanding of Christian sexual ethics, and beliefs on gender identity.”

SHARK-PROOF!

How does Liberty Institute’s expertise help religious institutions avoid—or at least survive—the sharks and help them keep their religious freedom?

In the field of employment, Liberty Institute takes guidance from the Supreme Court’s opinion in Hosanna-Tabor Church v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which grants churches latitude in hiring, firing, and disciplining employees, but only if they are ministerial.

Consequently, where appropriate, churches and faith-based organizations should identify and denominate their ministry staff.  But churches and faith-based organizations cannot rely on simple word searches and cut-and-paste forms.

“You cannot simply download templates from an online law firm.  The language and policies should match the faith distinctives of an organization,” says Kacsmaryk, noting that Liberty Institute advises “adoption and foster care clients whose mission differs from that of religious schools, soup kitchens, food pantries, night shelters, or Christian sororities.”  He emphasizes that the Religious Liberties Audit requires a true attorney-client relationship:  “Liberty Institute seeks to match the policy to the organization and its mission.  That takes time.”

A ministry must have written policies, legal documents, and the tool kit to prove the sincerity of their faith.  “We will help you build that tool kit,” says Kacsmaryk.

A MUSHROOMING NEED—WITH MORE HELP COMING!

Liberty Institute has more than 30 clients in the queue, and every client is different.  Some organizations have robust written statements; some are checking off the boxes on pre-packaged corporate forms; and some have nothing and are starting from scratch.  “As we help faith-based organizations write these policies, we are developing templates that will benefit all,” says Kacsmaryk.  To inquire, use the legal request form on the Web site or through the main number.

Finally, the increased pressure should cause religious institutions to be more, not less, bold in their documents.

“Because you already live by these articles of faith, you should boldly define and state your beliefs in writing,” says Kacsmaryk.  “Many corporate and employment attorneys unacquainted with religious liberties litigation assume that the safest course is to have generic, lukewarm language on controversial subject matters, but the field increasingly tilts in the opposite direction in many, many instances.”

“Greater particularity”—increased specificity about what you believe on specific issues—“resonates as sincere and deeply held, and that is what the law requires.”

CLICK HERE to read part 1 of “Shark Tank:  Will Your Church Be Safe?”


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 www.LibertyInstitute.org.

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