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11th Circuit Court Upholds Restrictions on Carrying Weapons

October 3, 2012

The United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit rejected constitutional challenges to a Georgia law restricting the right to carry freely handguns in eight specific locations, including any place of worship. Plaintiffs, who held weapons carry licenses and regularly attended church services, challenged the statute. They claimed that the law violated the free exercise clause of the First Amendment and the right to bear arms established by the Second Amendment.

To properly prove a violation of the First Amendment’s free exercise clause, a plaintiff must demonstrate a constitutionally impermissible burden on a sincerely held religious belief.  Plaintiffs stated that they would like to carry handguns in a place of worship for the protection of themselves, their families, their flock and other members of their church.  Plaintiffs further claimed that the statute interfered with their free exercise of religion by prohibiting them from engaging in activities in a place of worship when those activities are generally permitted throughout the State.

The Court of Appeals concluded that Plaintiffs’ desire to carry firearms in order to be able to act in “self-defense” is a personal preference, motivated by a secular purpose and, therefore, not subject to protection under the free exercise clause of the First Amendment. The Court of Appeals also rejected the Plaintiffs’ Second Amendment challenge. The Court determined that Plaintiffs’ beliefs did not overcome a private property owner’s right to control exclusively who is allowed on the premises and under what circumstances.

For more information or for a consultation regarding your legal issues, please contact McCollum & Associates, LLC, at (301) 864-6070 or jmccollum@jmlaw.net.

Leadership Succession Planning for Churches

May 9, 2012

When a for-profit business owner plans for succession, the business owner usually determines how much the business is worth, and considers arrangements such as cross-purchase agreements and entity-purchase agreements. Succession planning for churches is much, much different. Moreover, as illustrated by recent news stories and court proceedings about a mega-church’s failure to plan for succession before the death of one of its founding pastors, the failure to plan for succession in churches can have enormously negative consequences. The most negative consequences, of course, are the destruction of the church itself and the collateral damage to its members and the community that it serves.

In addition to considering all of the financial issues, churches should ask fundamental questions such as: (1) how can the church transfer the trust that the members and community have in the present leadership?; (2) How can the church transfer the respect that the members and community have in the present leadership; (3) how can the church transfer the goodwill that the church has built up with its members and the community?

The present leadership of the church must be committed to a leadership succession plan. After commitment comes recruitment, development and selection of future leaders. Future leaders must then be allowed to earn the trust, respect and goodwill of the church’s members and the community. Once the leadership succession plan is in place, it must be communicated effectively. And, at some point, future leaders of the church must be allowed to be the present leaders of the church—before it is too late.

Do you have a leadership succession plan for your church?

For more information or for a consultation regarding your legal issues, please contact McCollum & Associates, LLC, at (301) 864-6070 or jmccollum@jmlaw.net.

Google’s Nonprofit Program and Discrimination Against Churches

April 4, 2012

I read an interesting article earlier this week.  It indicated that Google is now interested in stopping discrimination that it has practiced against churches.  Google has a program:  Google for Nonprofits.  When the program was introduced, churches (and some other organizations) were excluded.  Now Google is allowing some churches to participate.  Among the benefits:  free or discounted Google Apps, free advertising in the Google AdWords program, premium branding and increased uploads on YouTube and free licensing for Google Earth, SketchUp and Maps API.

For more information or for a consultation regarding your legal issues, please contact McCollum & Associates, LLC, at (301) 864-6070 or jmccollum@jmlaw.net.

Banks foreclosing on churches in record numbers

March 12, 2012

(Reuters) – Banks are foreclosing on America’s churches in record numbers as lenders increasingly lose patience with religious facilities that have defaulted on their mortgages, according to new data.

The surge in church foreclosures represents a new wave of distressed property seizures triggered by the 2008 financial crash, analysts say, with many banks no longer willing to grant struggling religious organizations forbearance. (read more)

–from Reuters.com

Article by Tim Reid, Los Angeles 

Friday March 9th, 2012

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/03/09/us-usa-housing-churches-idUSBRE82803120120309 

Minister’s Claims Involving Resume Dismissed Because of the First Amendment

March 5, 2012

A case in Connecticut illustrates a trend in litigation involving churches and church organizations.

In that case, an ordained minister filed a lawsuit after he sought employment services through a regional organization of congregations of a certain denomination.  Among other items, the regional organizations provided placement services for ordained ministers and provided a clearinghouse whereby congregations seeking ministers could obtain information about available ministers.  The organization became concerned about whether the plaintiff minister was fit for service in ministry.  Therefore, it decided to flag his profile and decided not to circulate his resume to congregations seeking ministers.

The ordained minister sued, alleging (1) breach of implied contract, (2) defamation, (3) deceit and fraud and (4) negligent infliction of emotional distress.  The trial court dismissed the ordained minister’s complaint.  On appeal, the trial court’s decision was affirmed.  Among other items, the Appellate Court of Connecticut followed a strong trend in the courts that consideration of the ordained minister’s claims would entail improper interference with church practice and procedure in violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

For more information or for a consultation regarding your legal issues, please contact McCollum & Associates, LLC, at (301) 864-6070 or jmccollum@jmlaw.net.

No Housing Allowance or Parsonage Income Exclusion or Allowance for Multiple Houses

February 17, 2012

In a case involving Phil Driscoll, who is an ordained minister as well as a gifted musician, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit determined that it would not allow a parsonage allowance (or housing allowance) exclusion for multiple houses.  In that case, Mr. Driscoll was paid a parsonage allowance for the acquisition, care and maintenance of both his principal residence and his lake home.  Mr. Driscoll, for the tax years in question, had requested that the amounts paid as a parsonage allowance be excluded from his gross income.

In sum, the Court of Appeals effectively concluded that a parsonage allowance or housing allowance could only be used for expenses associated with one home of a minister.

For more information or for a consultation regarding your legal issues, please contact McCollum & Associates, LLC, at (301) 864-6070 or jmccollum@jmlaw.net.

Supreme Court Recognizes Ministerial Exception for the First Time

January 23, 2012

This is an important, important ruling.  The Supreme Court finally and unanimously recognized–for the first time–the ministerial exception to anti-discrimination laws.  How does this ruling apply to day-to-day life?  It means that “ministerial” employees of a church cannot sue for employment discrimination. And, on the other hand, secular employees of a church can sue, in accordance with our  government’s laws, for protection from unlawful discrimination and retaliation.

Next question:  how can one distinguish between a “ministerial” employee and a “secular” employee of a church? Well, each case must be decided on a case-by-case basis.  Although the Supreme Court decided that the ministerial exception applied in the case before it to a “called” teacher who held herself out as a minister of her church, it took care to note that “[t]he case before us is an employment discrimination suit brought on behalf of a minister, challenging her church’s decision to fire her.  Today we hold only that the ministerial exception bars such a suit.  We express no view on whether the exception bars other types of suits, including actions by employees alleging breach of contract or tortuous conduct by their religious employers.  There will be time enough to address the applicability of the exception to other circumstances if and when they arise.”

For more information or for a consultation regarding your legal issues, please contact McCollum & Associates, LLC, at (301) 864-6070 or jmccollum@jmlaw.net.

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