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We’ve summarized the situations when ADF can assist your church in a new resource appropriately titled, “When Should My Church Contact ADF?”  The short answer is whenever your church’s attempts to further the Gospel are being restricted by a legal roadblock.  These roadblocks arise in many contexts such as land use, access to government forums, employment decisions, and speaking about political issues.

While the above list of situations where ADF can assist your church, free of charge, is not comprehensive, it is a good summary.  If you’re unsure if ADF may be able help, the best thing to do is contact us at 1-800-TellADF, or visit us on our website –, click on “Take Action,” and then “Request Legal Help.”

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ADF Senior Counsel - Church Project

We get numerous questions about same-sex “marriage” (the quotes indicate this isn’t marriage at all, but is an attempt redefine the term – sort of like square circles).  Answers to many of them can be found in the FAQ document on the Church Project resource page here, under Sermon Tools.

The most frequent question we receive is, “How will same sex ‘marriage’ effect the religious freedom of churches?” Recent legal developments provide the best answer.

First, a federal court in California ruled in Perry v. Schwarzenegger that the teachings of Southern Baptists and Roman Catholics indicating homosexual behavior is sinful are “harmful” to those engaging in this conduct. The court went on to hold a California law preserving marriage as between a man and a woman violates the federal constitution. A court ruling a church’s doctrine is harmful is just one step away from saying it’s illegal.  That case is on appeal and you can read more about the judge’s ruling in my 8/9/10 post.

Second, a church camp meeting association in Ocean Grove, New Jersey was sued because they refused to allow a same-sex wedding ceremony to take place in one of its facilities.  This is just one example of attempts by the pro-homosexual lobby to impose its view of marriage directly on religious organizations and people, and it won’t be the last.  You can learn more about other attacks on religious freedom by same-sex “marriage” proponents and what ADF is doing about it on ADF’s main website.

Lastly, legislation now pending in Congress would expand Title VII to include sexual orientation in the list of characteristics protected from employment discrimination.  That bill is often referred to as ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act). If passed, this would have little effect on church employees because there is a broad exception to Title VII that allows churches to only hire employees that agree with their religious beliefs.  But unless they’re closely tied to the church or are blatantly religious, parachurch organizations may not be able to take advantage of this exception.  So soup kitchens, day cares, and other ministries for the needy may find themselves being forced to hire employees that engage in homosexual conduct, and provide benefits to their partners.

These are just a few of the examples demonstrating that same-sex “marriage” will have a profound effect on churches if we don’t fight very hard to preserve religious freedom.  Contact us here at the ADF Church Project to learn more about how to adopt policies and bylaws that will protect your ministry from this coming onslaught.

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ADF Senior Counsel - Church Project

This week, the Ninth Circuit affirmed its holding last August protecting World Vision’s religious freedom. Several employees of World Vision sued the ministry for firing them because of differences in theological beliefs. They claimed World Vision isn’t really a religious organization, and therefore should be required to hire people who don’t subscribe to the ministry’s theology.

Every court to hear the matter so far has rejected that argument and the Ninth Circuit confirmed that once again in its new amended order. The only significant difference between the amended opinion and the previous one appears to be a section indicating a majority of the court determined an organization is exempt from Title VII’s prohibition on religious discrimination if it:

1. Is organized for a religious purpose;

2. Is engaged primarily in carrying out that religious purpose;

3. Holds itself out to the public as an entity for carrying out that religious purpose; and

4. Does not engage primarily or substantially in the exchange of goods or services for money beyond nominal amounts.

These are some concrete guidelines for ministries in the states and territories the Ninth Circuit covers – Alaska, Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.

The court found World Vision meets the above requirements.  Unlike Manhattan College in New York that was recently denied a religious exemption, World Vision clearly holds itself out to the public as a religious organization, and has not drifted away from its Christian origins.

The World Vision case confirms ministries can maintain their ability to protect their religious character by hiring people of like faith. They just need to stay true to their religious principles in all aspects of the ministry.

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ADF Senior Counsel - Church Project

In C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, the senior devil Screwtape writes to the junior devil Wormwood, “Prosperity knits a man to the world. He feels he is ‘finally finding his place in it,’ while really it is finding its place in him.” No, the National Labor Relations Board didn’t really quote (or even mention) Lewis, but it did hand down a decision on January 10, 2011 that applies Screwtape’s observation.

The Board ruled it had jurisdiction over the labor practices of Manhattan College in the Bronx – a traditionally Catholic School.  A copy of the ruling can be accessed at LifeSiteNews. The ruling noted that the NLRB often will not interfere in the relationship of a religious school and its faculty because teachers are responsible for inculcating the theological beliefs of the school.  If government tells school officials who they should hire and which employees should be retained, it risks entangling itself with religion in violation of the Establishment Clause.

But the school must truly be a religious institution for this rule to apply, and Manhattan College no longer qualifies.  It was founded as a Catholic institution, but drifted away from that original purpose.  Religious training for students that’s designed to indoctrinate them in Catholicism is no longer required.  Any religious courses that are required are academic in nature, not devotional. Neither faculty nor students are required to be Catholic, or even have a belief in God. The school emphasizes its independence from the Catholic Church in brochures and other documents made available to the public. And Manhattan College apparently receives very little funding or input into day to day operations by the Catholic Church or the religious order that founded the school.

These are just some of the factors that courts consider when determining whether an organization is religious and therefore subject to less government control. A comprehensive list of factors can be found on our resource page here.  I also wrote a more specific, in-depth analysis on these factors titled Protecting Catholic Colleges From External Threats to Their Catholic Identity for the Cardinal Newman Society.  You can access that article at their website here.

The lesson from the Manhattan College case is simple – schools and other religious organization must decide whether they are truly religious or not if they want to take advantage of religious exemptions to governmental regulation. It is not enough to call themselves religious, but act like a secular institution for funding, marketing, or recruiting reasons. Lewis was right, they cannot find their place in this world without the world finding its place in them.

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ADF Senior Counsel - Church Project

Last April, I commented on the Ninth Circuit’s ruling that properly upheld the right of churches to train and employ ministers without government interference. In Alcazar v. Corporation of the Archbishop of Seattle, the court held that a church can require its candidates for the priesthood to spend a year cleaning sinks if it wants to, and still qualify for the ministerial exception. Only a church can determine whether a seemingly secular activity will be a beneficial part of helping a pastor minister, and it should still be able to hire only those candidates for pastor that agree with the church’s religious beliefs.

But that ruling wasn’t the end of the story. One of the plaintiffs in the case, Cesar Rosas, appealed the ruling to a full (referred to as ”en banc”) panel of the Ninth Circuit. The original appeal, like most, was heard by three judges. But the en banc panel, consisting of 11 judges, issued an opinion in December confirming the ultimate holding by the original panel.

This en banc opinion, which has more precedential value than opinions from 3 judge panels, first confirmed the vitality of the ministerial exception to prohibitions on employment discrimination. It explained that “[t]he Free Exercise Clause rational for protecting a church’s personnel decisions concerning its ministers is the necessity of allowing the church to choose its representatives using whatever criteria it deems relevant.  Indeed, the ministerial relationship lies so close to the heart of the church that it would offend the Free Exercise Clause simply to articulate a religious justification for its personnel decisions.”

Cesar Rosas complained that he should not fall within this exception because he was a priest in training who spent most of his time performing janitorial duties at the church. But the court rejected that argument, recognizing that “[a] church  may well assign secular duties to an aspiring member of the clergy, either to promote a spiritual value (such as diligence, obedience, or compassion) or to promote its religious mission in some material way. The ministerial exception applies notwithstanding the assignment of some secular responsibilities.”

The Ninth Circuit is to be commended for getting this case right twice. Judges must continue to acknowledge the right of churches to only employ people who agree with their religious mission in order for religious freedom to thrive.

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ADF Senior Counsel - Church Project

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