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  • July 1, 2019

The Supreme Court’s Bladensburg Peace Cross Decision Announces a New Definition For The Establishment of Religion

On June 20, 2018, the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in American Legion v. American Humanist Assn., concerning a large cross on public lands, erected as a war memorial.  The nine justices produced eight different opinions (a majority decision, a plurality decision, five concurring opinions, and a dissent).  In so doing, the Court substantially changed the constitutional tests for defining the “establishment of religion” and continued the Roberts’ Court advancement of religious freedom. The First Amendment of the Constitution forbids the Federal Government from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion.”  Everyone understands that the government cannot formally…

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  • May 23, 2019

A Primer on Pennsylvania Church Law

Pennsylvania church law is rooted in the history of the Commonwealth, described by the United States District Court as “the woods to which Penn led the Religious Society of Friends to enjoy the blessings of religious liberty.” United States v. Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of Religious Soc. of Friends, 753 F. Supp. 1300, 1306 (1990).   As such, Pennsylvania state law shows great deference to churches and other religious organizations in all aspects of faith, worship, and sacred practice.  Over the years, however, Pennsylvania courts have increasingly asserted the dominance of secular law over the spiritual in all matters not directly touching…

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  • June 8, 2018

Potential Broad Implications from the Supreme Court’s “Narrow Ruling” in Masterpiece Cakeshop

Few decisions from the United States Supreme Court this term were as anxiously anticipated as that in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.  Everyone anticipated a close decision where the Court would balance religious liberty against discrimination based on sexual orientation.  The decision announced on June 4, 2018 was not close and it did not decide that issue.  Instead, it did something much more important. The case concerns Jack Phillips, a Colorado baker and the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, which he opened in 1993. In 2012, David Mullins and Charlie Craig, two gay men intending to get married,…

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  • March 13, 2018

Church Law Practice Group Reflects on the Life of Rev. Billy Graham

The following article was written by Firm Principal Thomas Schetelich and appeared in the monthly publication CPN-OnPoint. Mr. Schetelich and his practice group are pleased to represent churches, ministries, and faith-based organizations throughout the region.  IN MEMORY OF BILLY GRAHAM I met Billy Graham on July 9, 2006.  He was in Baltimore for the Metro-Maryland Festival, featuring his son Franklin as the primary speaker.  I was the Chair of the Festival’s Executive Committee, and had been leading the team working on this event for the past three years.  The general assumption was that Billy Graham had ended his public speaking career, and…

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  • January 4, 2018

Tolerance is Most Meaningful When it’s Mutual- Supreme Court Arguments in Masterpiece Cakeshop

The developing law concerning religious freedom and same sex marriage was argued before the United States Supreme Court on December 5, 2017 in the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.  The case concerns Jack Phillips, a Colorado baker and the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, which he opened in 1993.  In 2012, David Mullins and Charlie Craig, two gay men intending to get married, came into his bakery and asked him to design a cake for their wedding.  Mr. Phillips declined, based on his Christian faith and his religious conviction that marriage was between a man and…

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  • July 13, 2017

The Trinity Lutheran Decision: The Supreme Court Expands Free Exercise Rights

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution has two provisions concerning religion: one prohibiting the government from establishing any religion; and the other guaranteeing each individual the free exercise of religion. On June 26, 2017, the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, the leading case this term on First Amendment religious liberty. The majority described its opinion as the logical and necessary outcome, compelled by the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of religion and by historical precedent. The dissent characterized the case as a dramatic break with precedent, and a dangerous step towards…

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  • May 26, 2017

Supreme Court Considers Expanding Religious Liberties

The United States Supreme Court seems primed to decide a case that could dramatically alter long-standing jurisprudence concerning the constitutional prohibition against the establishment of religion.   It heard arguments in April 2017 in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, when the questions and comments from the Justices seemed to favor a major decision in favor of religious freedom. Trinity Lutheran Church is in Columbia, Missouri.  It operates a licensed preschool and daycare center on church premises.  The preschool and daycare have an open admission policy, meaning that there is no preference shown based on a family’s religion.  However, the Church sees the…

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  • February 20, 2017

The “Trump Travel Ban” and Freedom of Religion

On January 27, 2017, seven days after his inauguration, President Donald Trump signed Executive Order 13,769 entitled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.” The Executive Order has 11 sections, containing the President’s findings, policy, and directions to the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security. Its provisions include the Implementation of Uniform Screening Standards for all Immigration Programs, an Expedited Biometric Entry-Exit Tracking System, improved Visa Interview Security Training, and other programs. The most controversial provisions of the Executive Order are in Section 3 “Suspension of Issuance of Visas and Other Immigration Benefits to Nationals of…

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  • November 23, 2016

Pregnancy Center Wins First Amendment Case

In a clear victory for the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, the Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns won a Summary Judgment against Baltimore City when a City ordinance requiring the posting of signs at pregnancy centers was struck down as unconstitutional. Ferguson, Schetelich & Ballew was among the attorneys representing the Center and defending its First Amendment rights. The case concerned a 2009 City Ordinance requiring “limited service pregnancy centers” to post signs in their waiting room stating that they do not provide or refer for abortion, or provide birth control. The Center (which provides a clear…

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  • August 8, 2016

New Maryland Case Allows Court to Distribute Assets of Charitable Corporation

A new decision reported by the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland has given a broad definition to what is a “charitable corporation” and also an expansive reading to the power of a court to transfer the assets of a charitable corporation that is not functioning. The case is Sydnor v. Hathaway decided on July 27, 2016.  The dispute was between the Union Baptist Church in Baltimore and a charitable corporation that it created, known as the Union Baptist Development Corporation.  The Development Corporation had been formed by the Church in 1981 to hold title to property that the Church…

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