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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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  • April 15, 2014

Religious Freedom Before the Supreme Court: The Hobby Lobby Argument

The most intensely debated field of law right now is the right of freedom of religion in the business community.  The debates have been in the forefront of the news, as the Hobby Lobby case came before the United States Supreme Court. On March 25, 2014, the Supreme Court heard the case of Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., putting the Affordable Care Act back at the Court for another constitutional challenge.  The case presented “an issue of first impression,” an issue on which all sides agree that there is no controlling precedent: Can a private, for profit business assert…

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  • February 25, 2014

The Formation and Structure of the Maryland Religious Corporation

A Religious Corporation is a non-stock corporation.  As such, the provisions of the Maryland general statutory corporate law will apply to it, unless the provisions of the statute clearly require otherwise.  Maryland Code, Corporations & Associations Article § 5-201. A Religious Corporation is created under Title 5, Subtitle 3 of the Maryland Code, Corporations & Associations Article.    This subtitle sets out the means of forming a religious corporation under a “congregational form of church government” contemplated by the statute.  Mt. Olive African Methodist Episcopal Church of Fruitland, Inc. v. Board of Incorporators,  348 Md. 299 (1997).  However, the subtitle…

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  • February 4, 2014

The Historical Roots of Maryland Church Law

Maryland’s law concerning Churches and Religious Corporations grows out of the State’s history of religious freedom, which is the oldest such tradition in the Nation.   The General Assembly of Maryland, meeting in St. Mary’s City, adopted The Act of Toleration (formally “An Act Concerning Religion”) on April 21, 1649. This Act secured religious freedom for all Christians “inhabiting, residing, trafficking, trading or commercing within this Province.”  The Act established both policy and protection for religious worship:  And whereas the enforcing of the conscience in matters of religion hath frequently fallen out to be of dangerous consequence in those commonwealths…

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  • January 7, 2014

Are Non-Religious Corporations Protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution?

Francis A. Gilardi and his brother Philip Gilardi are co-owners of Freshway Foods and Freshway Logistics, closely-held ‘S Corporations.’ Their businesses employ about 400 employees, and they have traditionally offered a self-insured health plan through a third-party administrator. As devout Catholics, the Gilardis oppose and wish to exclude coverage for contraception, sterilization and abortion under their health insurance policies. The Affordable Care Act (informally known as “Obamacare”) directs all group health plans to provide “preventive care.” It has been determined that preventive care includes FDA approved “contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling for all women with reproductive…

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