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.
Last month, the IRS announced that its initiating hundreds of church exams to test compliance with the Affordable Care Act (ACA). While many provisions only apply to churches with 50 or more full-time equivalent employees (FTEs), even smaller churches could potentially violate provisions applicable to health benefit plans with as few as 2 plan participants.
July 4th is synonymous with food, fun, and fireworks. If your church is planning an event this Independence Day, remember to keep a focus on safety, so that everyone can have fun.
National Insurance Awareness Day falls on June 28 this year to remind people everywhere that insurance is vital to their companies and ministries.
Summertime across the country means barbecues, carnivals, sporting events, boating, hitting the beach and many other recreational activities. In short, summertime means a lot more people are spending time in the great outdoors. But summer is also the peak season for one of the nation's deadliest weather phenomena--lightning.
More than 700 confirmed cases of measles have been reported in the United States so far this year, making this outbreak the worst in decades.
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. Governor Andrew Cuomo has designated April 29 – May 4, 2019, as Severe Weather Awareness Week in New York.
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.
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.