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.
Recently, we learned about two major overseas incidents involving pastors on mission trips. The first incident involved a pastor being hit by a motorcycle while running. The second was a bus accident involving two pastors. The runner and one of the two bus passengers sustained extensive injuries.
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.
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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.
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We pray for the victims of the shooting at Marshall County High School in Benton, KY. How would your church respond in a similar situation?
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.
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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.