Jump directly to the content

The Top Five Reasons Your Church Could Land in Court

(UPDATED) Two categories of cases declined last year, but one has significantly risen.
The Top Five Reasons Your Church Could Land in CourtMarcelle Guilbeau/Flickr

A review of 12,000 court rulings from 2012 reveals the most-common reasons that American churches were taken to court last year.

Legal expert Richard Hammar compiled the rulings and analyzed which types are rising and falling for Church Law and Tax, CT's sister publication. His top five categories:

5) Zoning (5.4% of cases)

Most involve RLUIPA, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. CT regularly reports on RLUIPA, including how the law's property and prisoner protections have diverged since 2000 and how the struggling economy has recently affected churches' battles to build.

4) Property disputes (6.8% of cases)

Such cases have seemed unending, thanks to mainline fragmentation. CT has reported how experts debate whether recent rulings are setting precedents for breakaway churches.

3) Insurance coverage disputes (7.3% of cases)

Recent examples: An insurance company challenged an Oregon church over its treatment of sex offenders (see correction below), while an Indiana church went bankrupt trying to finance building upgrades by taking out insurance policies on elderly members.

2) Nonsexual personal injuries (7.6% of cases)

Recent examples: Parents in Kentucky sued a church after their son was killed because a youth pastor let him drive, and a teen's injuries on a skiing trip led to a multi-million-dollar judgment against a Florida church, prompting churches to reevaluate risk policies.

1) Sexual abuse of minors (13.6% of cases)

CT unfortunately regularly covers such cases, which Hammar says have topped his list for seven of the past eight years.

Hammar explains which categories have changed the most and offers resources at Church Law and Tax.

Editor's note: A previous version of this blog incorrectly stated that Church Mutual sued an Orgeon church over its treatment of sex offenders. Church Mutual only issued a list of requirements for the church to remain insured. CT regrets the error.

Related Topics:Church Safety; Courts
Posted:November 18, 2013 at 5:03PM
Gleanings aggregates what others are reporting. Learn more.
Recent Posts
Christian Pharmacists and Pharmacy Owners Lose Emergency Contraceptive Appeal
Court rules that dispensing Plan B, ella, does not violate religious freedom.
Contraception Mandate Heading to Supreme Court
(UPDATED) GuideStone Financial, Little Sisters seek exemption from requirement to include birth control benefit in health plan.
Christian Mother on Pakistan's Death Row Gets Last Chance to Escape Blasphemy Execution
Asia Bibi, the 'world's most emblematic defender of human rights,' goes before Islamabad's Supreme Court.
Mt. Soledad Cross Controversy Ends after 25 Years
Veterans memorial symbolized debate over keeping crosses public by neutering their religious meaning.
Christianity Today
The Top Five Reasons Your Church Could Land in Court