September 7, 2016
Issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) laws have received a great deal of media and government attention since the 2015 Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage. As a result, many ministry leaders have questions about what the law requires and how they can accommodate LGBTQ* individuals without compromising their religious beliefs.
What Does the Law Say?
Federal law protects the civil rights of certain employees. Title VII of the Civil Rights Acts does not specifically recognize LGBTQ individuals as protected classes. In recent years, however, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has interpreted Title VII’s prohibition of sex discrimination as forbidding employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.1
Although individual state and local laws differ, sometimes significantly, about 20 states and more than 200 cities and counties have adopted SOGI-related non-discrimination laws covering employment, housing, and/or public accommodation.2
How Do Organizations Uphold their Sincerely Held Religious Beliefs?
Federal and state laws generally uphold the rights of religious organizations to make decisions consistent with their religious beliefs. Many laws addressing sexual orientation and gender identity exempt religious institutions. Even when state and local laws are silent on SOGI issues, ministries still may be able to rely upon the U. S. Constitution’s first amendment to protect their right to operate in harmony with their beliefs.
Ministries can protect themselves from claims of discrimination by clearly communicating their religious beliefs. Ministry leaders should ensure that anyone who represents their ministry—pastors, counselors, and other ministry leaders—understand the organization’s core beliefs and are able to express them correctly and consistently.
Leaders should advise all individuals who seek to use ministry facilities why the ministry exists and its core beliefs. Document ministry beliefs within foundational and operational documents—membership applications, employee handbooks, activity participation agreements, facility use agreements, and other relevant organizational policies.
Consider Buying Religious Freedom Protection Insurance
Insurance coverage is available from some insurance providers. Not all coverage is equal, however, even among those insurers that specialize in ministry-related insurance. Avoiding every potential claim or lawsuit that may result from belief-based decisions and practices is impossible, but ministries should carefully consider the issues and take steps to avoid or lessen potential claims whenever possible.
*LGBTQ is an acronym for Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer (and/or Questioning individuals/identities). The term originated in the 1990s.
Do you use commercial vehicles that transport more than 15 passengers or carry cargo from one state to another as part of your ministry? If so, you are required to register with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and obtain a USDOT number.
As winter turns to spring, we’re also in for a turn in weather. Lightning, strong winds, flash flooding, hail, or tornadoes could quickly strike your ministry. The National Weather Service has designated March 25-29, 2019, as Severe Weather Preparedness Week in Iowa and Nebraska.
The Centers for Disease Control says 107 cases of measles have been reported in 21 states since January 1.
Will your ministry be hosting a Fourth of July celebration this year? You may be planning a spectacular firework show as part of your festivities. Read this post before hosting an event at your ministry.
The National Safety Council has designated June as National Safety Month, so we want to make sure your ministry is doing everything it can to protect its people, property, and programs. Each week in June, we’ll tackle a different topic. Up this week: Emergency Preparedness.
There’s a new scam in town, and ministries and other organizations collecting donations are the primary target. If your ministry collects tithes or donations, you could be targeted by scammers practicing donation overpayment fraud.
Beloved evangelist Billy Graham was called to his heavenly home on Wednesday, February 21, 2018, at the age of 99.
For the first time in its 13 years of influenza monitoring, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting that every state in the continental U.S. is seeing widespread flu activity. Get tips on how to keep your congregation healthy this flu season.
Snow skiing. Camping. Whitewater rafting. A youth group trip can give students an exciting diversion from their weekly routines, as well as an opportunity to strengthen healthy friendships. Off-site activities may challenge your students to step outside of their comfort zones a bit, but this can bring about a positive result.
If you are in the process of planning a mission trip for your church group, make sure to think carefully about insurance, safety, and security as you hammer out the details. Extra preparation could minimize headaches when your group arrives on the mission field.
Has your church or school ever been asked to loan one of your vans or buses to another? Before you decide to loan your ministry vehicles to another organization, seriously consider the potential risks associated with such a decision.
Completing a personal property inventory of your church or ministry could be one of the wisest activities you can pursue. If disaster strikes and you file an insurance claim, you may need an inventory highlighting damaged items.
Have you thought through potential dangers that may confront your ministry? Taking steps to consider and address these risks provides important protection from injuries, lawsuits, fires, and dozens of other hazards that may affect your ministry, especially your employees and those you serve.
Small businesses—including churches and related ministries—can once again pay premiums for their employees’ health insurance. Previously known as an Employer Payment Plan (EPP) or Health Reimbursement Account (HRA), these arrangements violated the Affordable Care Act (ACA). However, due to a recently passed law, ministries that are not part of a group health plan now have another option to help employees with health care costs.
Ministries beware: An email scheme, designed to coincide with tax season, asks payroll and human resource professionals to disclose employees’ personal information. Think you wouldn’t fall for such a scam? You might, if the email looks as if it came from someone in your ministry.
Under federal law, most ministers have dual tax status. Dual tax status means a minister is an employee of the church for federal income tax purposes, and self-employed for Social Security and Medicare taxes. Here’s what you need to know.
Lawsuits against churches and ministries are on the rise, making their board members especially vulnerable. Sometimes, courts have found directors and officers personally liable when their actions have resulted in financial damages.
Incorporation takes the weight of responsibility off the shoulders of individuals and instead, places it on the organization. In contrast, a court may find all members of an unincorporated church legally responsible for negligent or criminal actions committed by one church member.
Ministries commonly store a variety of personal information about their members and the people who support them. Mailing lists and donation records may be the most familiar repositories of personal information; however, the average church database is also likely to include Social Security numbers and payment card information. Unsecured, this data could make church members vulnerable to criminals—putting church and ministry members at risk.
Large or small, churches and ministries are often easy prey for would-be thieves, especially as church holidays, like Christmas, approach and weekly offerings increase as more people return to worship and other ministry activities. Ministry leaders can boost their ability to keep thieves away from their contributions and property by taking just a few precautions—not only during the holidays, but also throughout the year.