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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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  • December 16, 2016

Church’s “Public Accommodation” and Gender Identity

The question of churches and gender identity have again come to the forefront of the news. The recent events in North Carolina and the recent joint guidance provided by the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice have raised issues of religious freedom and civil rights. Churches have expressed questions on (i) whether church buildings and services are required to comply with the recent joint guidance provided by the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice, (ii) whether churches are exempt from this joint guidance and/or state law, and (iii) if compliance is mandated, what liability do churches face in failing to…

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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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  • December 28, 2015

Election Year Rules for Churches and Non-Profits

2016 is a national election year, in which Americans will choose their political leaders at every level of elected government.  Churches and non-profit organizations have much to say on the issues being debated and have a First Amendment right to have their views heard.  The Internal Revenue Code has prohibitions against campaign activity for or against political candidates.  This article reviews the state of the law and the current IRS practices. As a first matter, Churches and non-profits have an absolute First Amendment right to speak out on political issues and for or against candidates, however and wherever they choose,…

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  • July 6, 2015

What Impact Will the Supreme Court Decision on Same Sex Marriage have on Maryland Churches?

On June 26, 2015 the United States Supreme Court ended the national debate over same sex marriage in its 5 – 4 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. The majority opinion authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, found that states which prohibit marriage to same sex couples deprive them of their liberty, contrary to the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The Court ordered that all States recognize and sanction marriages between same sex couples “on the same terms and conditions as marriages between persons of the opposite sex.” The case has generated legal, moral, and religious controversy. Many Maryland churches…

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  • May 20, 2015

How to Use Christian Mediation

Disputes within churches, or between ministries, can often give rise to legal claims. In litigation, courts will decline to resolve matters of religious doctrine, but try to apply “neutral principles of law” to resolve disputes. But many Christians believe that such disputes should not or cannot be resolved in legal courts, often quoting the verses at I Corinthians 6: 1 – 9 not to even file such an action. The mandate of that Scripture is that such matters should be resolved within the Church. To this end, many churches have dispute resolution ministries. Also, Peacemaker Ministries (www.peacemaker.net) provides a formal…

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  • November 18, 2014

Minister’s Housing Allowance Survives Challenge

In a big win for churches and other religious organizations, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has reversed a District Court decision which had declared the Minister’s Housing Allowance to be unconstitutional. The decision (issued on November 13, 2014) preserves the annual $700 million tax break given to religious organizations and their ministers. The case is Freedom from Religion Foundation, Inc. v. Lew, which arose on appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. At issue is Section 107(2) of the Internal Revenue Code, which states that for a “minister of…

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  • May 20, 2014

Court Expands Rights of Maryland Churches to Build

Churches have long faced challenges in zoning and local land use ordinances when looking to build.  Legal disputes have pitted the right of the Church to religious freedom against the right of the local community to regulate and/or restrict land use.  Now, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has issued a decision which has clarified and expanded the rights of churches in Maryland looking to build, and set a higher standard for counties looking to restrict church building through zoning and other land use ordinances. The case is Bethel World Outreach Ministries v. Montgomery County Council. …

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