Posts Tagged ‘: Church’

Federal Judge Halts Wisconsin Election Law

April 9, 2010

State campaign finance laws are usually very burdensome and perplexing.  Nonetheless, some states require churches and other groups to comply with these complex laws simply for speaking out on important moral issues that are on the local ballot, such as marriage.  That requires a church to register with the state and fill out reams of paperwork.

ADF is always on the lookout for these types of government restrictions on churches and people of faith, and has successfully challenged such laws in the past.  So we were glad to hear that last week a Wisconsin federal judge halted enforcement of a state law that required residents to register with the state and jump through all kinds of other bureaucratic hoops just to communicate with fellow citizens on a ballot issue.  The case was brought by Jim Bopp’s James Madison Center for Free Speech, on behalf of a resident who wanted to distribute post cards to his neighbors to encourage them to vote no on a local liquor ballot initiative.

It’s a good win and reaffirms that people shouldn’t have to register with the state before they speak out on important moral issues. In this case, it means that the citizen who challenged the law can advocate for the ballot measure without having to register with the state and submit reams of paperwork.  And it means that next time there’s an important moral issue on the ballot, churches will also be free to advocate for it without fearing prosecution if they don’t register with the state first. 

Incidentally, as a refresher for what pastors and churches can and can’t do during an election, you might want to check out our “Guidelines for Political Activities by Churches and Pastors.”

Please leave a comment below to share your thoughts or follow us on Facebook to join the conversation. http://www.facebook.com/SpeakUpChurch

Upcoming Supreme Court Case Could Greatly Impact the Church

April 6, 2010

On April 19, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral argument in one of the most important religious liberty cases in years, Christian Legal Society v. Martinez. Attorneys with ADF and the Christian Legal Society represent a student chapter of CLS at the UC-Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. The law school recognizes a wide array of student groups, but refuses to recognize the CLS group simply because it requires its voting members and officers to share its Christian beliefs.

This case will obviously have significant ramifications for Christian student groups around the country. But what you may not realize is that it could also have significant ramifications for churches and ministry organizations.

The law school’s basic argument is that when it opens up a forum for student groups, it should have the right to ban those groups who have religious-based standards for their leaders or members (as most churches and ministries do). If the U.S. Supreme Court agrees, then these types of “non-discrimination” laws will not be limited to college campuses. They could be imposed on all sorts of public forums, including public facilities where churches commonly meet. In the end, thousands of churches around the country could be left scrambling to find new homes.

It is deeply troubling that non-discrimination laws, which were initially intended to protect religious freedom, are now being used to squelch it. Please pray for our team of attorneys as they prepare for this argument, for the Supreme Court Justices as they consider the case, and for the courageous law school students who are taking a stand for their rights.

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The War on Religious Liberty Opens a New Front

March 31, 2010

According to proponents of homosexual behavior, the battle between religious liberty and homosexual behavior is a zero sum game where one side must lose so the other one can win.  And the battleground has now moved to the military.

President Obama has called for repeal of the so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law, which prevents open homosexual behavior in the military.  Already, two bills are pending in Congress that would both get rid of DADT and replace it with special rights for homosexual behavior, treating such behavior as deserving the same protection from discrimination as innate, innocuous characteristics like race and gender.

The result of this change will be a major loss to religious liberty in the military, especially for chaplains.  We’ve already seen the effects of such “non-discrimination” laws in the past, and they almost invariably end in marginalizing or attacking Christians simply for being Christians.

Christian counselors have been punished for declining to counsel same-sex couples, Christian chaplains have been disciplined for refusing to turn their worship service over to individuals who openly engage in homosexual behavior, and Christian ministries have been penalized for choosing not to allow their facilities to be used for same-sex commitment ceremonies.

Fortunately, Americans aren’t allowing religious liberty for their soldiers to die without a fight.  ADF sent a letter to the President and other leaders explaining the unconstitutional costs of repealing DADT, and other organizations are wading into the fray.  But victory remains uncertain–perhaps even unlikely, given the current political environment–unless more voices begin to speak out.  Fortunately, it seems like more voices–and some particularly credible ones at that–will be doing so soon.  Stay tuned…

Please leave a comment below to share your thoughts or follow us on Facebook to join the conversation. http://www.facebook.com/SpeakUpChurch

Court Turns Back Recent Attack on Ministry

March 27, 2010

The assault on faith and people of faith has never been greater here in America. Billboards sponsored by atheistic organizations have been springing up around the country spouting phrases like “Praise Darwin: Evolve Beyond Belief,” and “Imagine No Religion.” Churches taking a biblical stand on moral issues such as homosexual behavior are becoming victims of vandalism and disruption of worship services.
But those standing firm in the face of this anti-religious onslaught received welcome news from a federal court the first week in March. Several years ago the anti-religion group, Freedom From Religion Foundation, sued President Bush, the governor of Wisconsin, and Shirley Dobson in an effort to stop the National Day of Prayer.
Mrs. Dobson voluntarily chairs the National Day of Prayer Task Force – a private non-profit ministry that promotes prayer observances on the National Day of Prayer each year and asks the President to issue a proclamation. For her efforts, she was named as a defendant in a federal lawsuit. The plaintiffs complained that a ministry requesting the President to ask the nation to pray violates the so-called “separation of church and state.” In essence, they wanted the court to muzzle people of faith and keep them from talking to their political leaders.
But in a March 2, 2010 ruling, a Federal District Court in Wisconsin threw out their claim against Mrs. Dobson – reaffirming the right of religious people and organizations to petition their government officials. Thankfully, this attempt to silence religious ministries was unsuccessful. Mrs. Dobson is to be commended for not rolling over when faced with legal action for merely speaking up.

Is it Biblical for Christians to go to Court?

March 22, 2010

At ADF, our clients – especially pastors and churches – often question whether it is biblical for Christians to sue the government to protect their constitutional rights. This question stems from passages like Romans 13:1-7, which commands us to “submit [our]selves to the governing authorities,” because those authorities are established by God. Would a lawsuit against the government violate this command?

Perhaps the best way of answering this is to consider who the “government authorities” are. Our system of government features a series of authorities at different levels (e.g. local, state, and federal) and of different types (e.g. executive, legislative, and judicial). Yet one authority in our system stands above all others: the United States Constitution. By using the judicial system to insist that government officials follow the Constitution, a church is not resisting authority. It is simply using the established system of government to appeal to a higher authority.

Apostle Paul, the author of Romans, frequently appealed to higher authorities to protect his rights. For example, he invoked his Roman citizenship and Roman law to force magistrates to personally release him from a Philippi prison after he had been beaten illegally (Acts 16:16-40).  He later invoked his Roman citizenship in Jerusalem to prevent a centurion from flogging him (Acts 22:22-29). Then he defended himself against charges in a Roman court and ultimately appealed to Caesar (Acts 24:10-25:12). Clearly, Paul had no trouble appealing to higher authorities when government officials overstepped their bounds or did not do justice.

So invoking a higher authority is not the same as resisting authority. A lawsuit is neither revolution nor rebellion. It is simply a way to insist that government officials obey a higher legal authority. And by doing so, it helps uphold the rule of law, preserves our Constitution, and ensures that we all can continue to enjoy our first liberty – religious freedom.

If you’re interested in exploring these issues in more depth, ADF attorney Travis Barham has written an excellent essay that I recommend to any Christians who are faced with the possibility of going to court to protect their constitutional rights.

Government Control of Church Schools

March 19, 2010

A church school in Redford, Michigan was dealt a blow to its independence from government control by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals on March 9, 2010.  Hosanna-Tabor is affiliated with the Lutheran Church-Misosouri Synod, and operates a church and school.  All the school teachers lead weekly chapel services, teach a 30 minute religion class four days per week, lead prayer three times per day, and teach a morning devotional.  In fact, most of the teachers are commissioned as ministers.

Courts have long recognized the “ministerial exception,” which prohibits courts from getting involved in the relationship between a religious organization and its ministers.  This independence (often referred to as “church autonomy”) from government control is considered vital because ministers are recognized by the law as the lifeblood of the church.

While the Sixth Circuit upheld this principle in EEOC v. Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church, it failed to apply it because it found the teacher in question was not really a minister.  At bottom, the court said she wasn’t a minister because she spent 6 hours a day teaching secular subjects like math, social studies, and music.  Only an hour or so was spent on exclusively religious instruction.

The court failed to recognize something even Christians struggle with – our biblical worldview and Christian principles affect all aspects of our lives.  That certainly includes how we teach our children to interpret music, and interact socially.  It even applies to math, as demonstrated by the great mathematician, Sir Isaac Newton (even though his Christian views certainly were not orthodox).

Apparently, Hossana-Tabor should have been clearer about how its teachers communicate the church’s theology in all subjects.  Hopefully it can do so at trial, since the case has been sent back down to the lower court.

Oasis of Truth: Banning Bible Study in Your Backyard

March 18, 2010

Banning Bible Study in Your Backyard


Does your neighborhood need to be protected from dangerous small-group Bible studies?

Oasis of Truth Church in Gilbert, Arizona, has seven adult members.  It met on a rotating basis in the homes of its members for a few hours of church services and a weekly Bible study.  The maximum number of people who ever attended Oasis’ meetings was 15; even then, only one car had to be parked in the street to accommodate the vehicles of the attendees.

As is painfully obvious from this description, the church’s meetings in homes were a threat to the community and had to be stopped.  And stopped they were when, just a few months after it started meeting, a Gilbert zone enforcement officer issued a cease-and-desist order to Oasis.  And why were the meetings stopped?  Because they were too big?  Meeting too often?  Being too loud or attracting too much traffic?  Generating irate community complaints?

Try none of the above.  Rather, the church was targeted simply because it was a church.  Nothing more.  As the Town later acknowledged in an official zoning interpretation, it didn’t matter if the meeting in question was a one-time get-together of two people for a quiet prayer time.  If the meeting was a church meeting, it was banned.

By contrast, other types of meetings—like Cub Scouts, business parties, or Monday Night Football gatherings—were all acceptable.  In fact, some day cares are specifically allowed by the zoning code to be run from homes.

Such blatant discrimination against churches is unconstitutional.  Targeting churches for disfavor simultaneously violates the Free Exercise Clause, since it unfairly limits religious liberty, and the Establishment Clause, since it prefers non-religious gatherings to religious ones.

Of course, municipalities can make some reasonable regulations on how homes are used, preventing your next door neighbor’s duplex from being turned into a shopping mall or a convention center.  But such regulations are only legitimate as long as they are focused on concerns like traffic, parking, building code safety, and the like.  Where the law instead singles out religious activities for discrimination, it leaves behind all pretense of legitimate regulation and becomes a tool to silence the church.

Fortunately, Gilbert is fixing the problem.  It sent high-ranking officials to church services to apologize and is working with the church now to protect religious liberty.  Hopefully, Gilbert’s approach to fixing the problem can be a model to other municipalities on how never to have a problem in the first place.

Are Churches More Dangerous than the KKK?

March 12, 2010

Silly question, right? Not to one California church, who was barred from using a public library meeting room, even though the room was open to all other private community groups. The County Librarian even acknowledged that groups like the Ku Klux Klan were free to use the facility. But church services were forbidden.

It may be tempting to dismiss this as one isolated incident. But the sad reality is that these types of policies are prevalent around the country. ADF has successfully represented dozens of churches in similar cases. And we have uncovered hundreds of community centers, libraries, schools, and other public facilities around the country that rent to community groups, but blatantly discriminate against religious groups by refusing to rent to them or by charging them higher rental rates.

These policies make no sense. After all, social science bears out what many of us see as self-evident: churches offer valuable contributions to the community such as social services, education, increased volunteering, and reduced crime. (An Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s paper concisely summarizes many of these studies.) And, especially in this time of economic uncertainty, local governments would surely benefit from the additional revenue it would receive by renting otherwise unused facilities to churches.

So why is there so much hostility toward churches? Public officials often seem to have a Pavlovian-like reaction against anything religious, claiming that the so-called “separation of church and state” prevents churches from ever stepping foot in a public facility. But that’s not what the Constitution actually says. In fact, since 1981, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in four different cases that the First Amendment gives religious groups the right to have equal access to a public forum that other community groups are allowed to use.

Fortunately for the California church, a federal court recognized this precedent and struck down the library policy as unconstitutional, opening the door for churches to have equal access to its meeting rooms. But it took five years of litigation to get there. Other cases have taken much longer. A school district in New York, for example, has been in court for 15 years doggedly fighting to keep churches from meeting in vacant school buildings on weekends.

ADF, who represents both churches, will continue to stand up for the time-honored principle that the First Amendment protects the right of all religious groups to equal access.

Should Churches be Taxed?

March 10, 2010

The Catholic League reported on March 5th that the Kansas House of Representatives was considering a bill that would remove the sales tax exemption for churches.  It is unclear at this point whether the bill has any chance of success, but it raises an issue that has been assumed, but not debated much, in American history – should churches be taxed at all?

Jesus made it very clear that as citizens of whatever country we live in, we should pay our taxes.  But the question of whether churches should be taxed at all is a different question altogether.  And it is one that judicial case law has not discussed much.

It has been assumed from the foundation of our country that churches should remain tax exempt.  In 1890, Kentucky State Representative Whittaker summed up the sentiment nicely when he said, “Let an untaxed Gospel be preached, in an untaxed church house, from an untaxed pulpit; let the emblem of a crucified, but risen Christ be administered from an untaxed altar, and, as the spire points heavenward, . . . let it stand forever untaxed.”

In 1970, the United States Supreme Court noted the “undeviating acceptance given religious tax exemptions from our earliest days as a Nation.  Rarely if ever has this Court considered the constitutionality of a practice for which the historical support is so overwhelming.”  Walz v. Tax Comm’n of City of New York, 397 U.S. 664, 681 (1970) (Brennan, J. concurring).  The very next year, the Supreme Court noted that nontaxation of churches is undergirded by “more than 200 years of virtually universal practice imbedded in our colonial experience and continuing into the present.”  Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602, 624 (1971).

Churches, as nonprofit organizations, are exempt from taxes not because of the public benefits that churches provide, although that is also a reason for exemption.  Rather, it is their very existence as non-profit entities that justifies church tax exemption.  Taxation naturally applies to profit-makers, the generators of revenue upon which government depends.  In his book, Why Churches Should Not Pay Taxes, Dean Kelley makes a powerful argument.  He states, “Other entities, which are not in the wealth producing category to begin with [such as churches], do not need to explain why they are not taxed any more than do the birds of the air or the rivers that flow to the sea. . . .  [Taxation] would be pointless, since they are not in any meaningful sense producers of wealth.”

In fact, taxing such nonprofits discourages their existence and amounts to double taxation.  All citizens, whether or not involved in a church or other nonprofit, are taxed on their individual incomes.  As Kelley notes again, “To tax them again for participation in voluntary organizations from which they derive no monetary gain would be ‘double taxation’ indeed, and would effectively serve to discourage them from devoting time, money, and energy to organizations which contribute to the up building of the fabric of democracy.”

There are many more reasons why churches should not pay taxes, but just these few demonstrate that the Kansas legislature should never let this bill see the light of day.

John the Baptist, Herod, and Extreme Censorship

February 17, 2010

The beheading of John the Baptist for preaching against Herod’s immorality seems to be an extreme and antiquated story. But incidents of government penalties on pastors who speak out on moral issues of the day are getting closer to home all the time. Just last week, LifeSiteNews reported that the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) threatened to “revoke[] the charitable status of Kings Glory Fellowship (KGF), a Christian church in Calgary.  …’The members of the Board of Directors espouse strong negative views about sensitive and controversial issues, which may also be viewed as political, such as abortion, homosexuality, divorce, etc.,’ wrote CRA agent Dian Prodanov in an October 29th letter.”  This is proof that European style censorship of pastors like the arrest and conviction of Ake Green in Sweden has crossed the Atlantic and is now in our own backyard.

Losing tax exemption is certainly not beheading (or even arrest), but the effort to silence preachers who express the biblical view on moral issues is the same.  These cases reflect the peculiar idea that churches have no business speaking out on abortion and homosexual behavior because those are political subjects.  In other words, the Church should stay out of politics.  But these are moral issues that the church – the moral conscience of the nation – has the right and duty to weigh in on.

What’s really going on is government has invaded the realm of the Church by politicizing moral questions.  Pastors must continue to assert the biblical perspective on moral issues and be alert for any encroachment on the right to do so.  Otherwise, the fate of John the Baptist starts looking less and less like a thing of the past.