Why Might Your Church be in Court?
I recently spoke at the same event as Richard
Hammer. We have each been aware of the others’ work for some time, but had
never met until that event. I found him to be genuinely concerned about the
same issues we are.
Hammer spoke about the “Top Five Reasons Your Church Could Land in Court”.
That presentation has been published by some news articles since that time (Church
Law & Tax -- November 18, 2013 and Christianity
Today -- Gleanings -- November 18, 2013 are two examples).
I would encourage your safety / security teams to consider Church
Law and Tax as a good resource for your operations.
Richard Hammer studies as many church related incidents as I do. His
reading of 12,000 incidents a year is very close to my own research, but we
research with a little different objective. My research statistics are specific
to deadly force incidents, while his appears to be about the issues related to
the presentation topic – itself just as valuable as the study of deadly force
incidents. Hammer and I are both dedicated to confirming the need to be
intentional about safety and security in the church communities.
Following are my notes taken from his presentation and the follow-up
articles. The comments pertain primarily to calendar year 2012, and sometimes
pertain to trends over the years before.
So here are Hammers’ top 5 reasons your church could land in court;
# 5 (5.4% of cases): The fifth most common reason churches found
themselves in court in 2012 was related to zoning laws. Most of these involved
RLUIPA (the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act).
# 4 (6.8% of cases): Property disputes took 4th place
in the 2012 tally.
# 3 (7.3% of cases): Hammer listed insurance disputes as the 3rd
most common court case for churches. He gave examples such as an Oregon church’s
treatment of registered sex offenders.
# 2 (7.6% of cases): Hammer listed examples such as 1) a Kentucky church
that was sued by parents when their son was killed in a vehicle accident as the
pastor was letting him drive and 2) a Florida church that was sued over a youth’s
injury in a church ski trip. Hammer categorizes such cases as non-sexual
#1 (13.6% of cases): No surprise to those of you who have been regular readers
of this website and have paid attention to the subject as harped on by myself, Chuck Chadwick, Jimmy
Meeks, Greg Love and others –
the number one reason your church could land in court is the sexual abuse of
a minor. Hammer pointed out this category has topped the “top 5 list” for 7
of the last 8 years.
Think About it:
Ø Each one of these categories is in an arena where the actions of your
team could escalate, de-escalate, prevent or solve a potential incident. Often
those we deal with are fishing for an infraction they can bring against your
church. In today’s litigious culture, you never know the agenda of someone you
are dealing with.
Ø Churches are waking up to the fact they can be sued like any other business.
A good safety / security team is one way a church can show it is intentional
about the safety of its people. A well regulated team based on firm policies
and training is an asset. A loose cannon team of ideals and passions could be a
liability. Be careful – but keep up the great work. Study to show thyself
II Timothy 2:15 KJV