Religious Organizations and Church Law

Church and Religious Ministry Attorneys

Although churches and other religious ministries share many similar issues as other nonprofits, they also have many unique needs given their protected First Amendment status. Failing to take the proper precautions, follow government regulations, or establish transparent procedures can result in potential lawsuits against your church or even the loss of your church's tax-exempt status. Our attorneys are experienced in navigating the special issues pertaining to churches and other religious ministries.

Though disputes within churches can be often resolved internally, other matters may require you to consult with an attorney. When such matters arise, it's best to consult with attorneys who are people of faith and are sensitive to the special needs and moral concerns of churches and church groups. We want to help you protect the church you worked so hard to build.

The Convergence of Faith and Politics

For instance, did you know that churches are not permitted to preach from the pulpit in support of or opposition to political candidates? Some churches are surprised to learn about the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits churches from endorsing political candidates. Under the IRS Code, all nonprofits, including churches, are not permitted to directly participate in, endorse, or oppose the campaign activities of a political candidate. Likewise, church funds cannot be used in support or opposition of a political candidate. We can help you and your church address these questions and others to ensure that what your pastor or priest shares from the pulpit will not get your church in hot water with the IRS.

Church Governance and Property Disputes

Property and governance issues are often at the fore in a church dispute:

Governance issues — These often occur when there are struggles for control within a congregation or a church body. In non-hierarchical church bodies, disputes often arise between different factions who rival for control of the church.

Control of church property — Disputes over property are usually a key issue when a church body splits. When a local church congregation breaks off from a larger church structure that is hierarchical in nature, disputes often arise over which body has rights in the church property.

All of these situations must be handled with the utmost care and sensitivity. Governance issues may result in religious employment litigation. When a church splits from a denomination, it is more than a matter of conflicting belief systems or leadership squabbles. Ownership of church buildings must be settled between a denomination and a congregation that is leaving that denomination. Possession and management of endowment funds may also be in question.

It is often in the best interests of both sides to resolve the property or governance question without resorting to costly litigation. However, a desire to settle church building ownership or other questions of congregational control may not be enough to avoid a major lawsuit. It is critical to find a well-qualified attorney with experience handling church disputes, both to contain legal fees and to move forward with confidence toward a satisfactory resolution.

Success Borne of Experience

Our law firm is a valuable resource for churches and denominations engaged in disputes over real property or governance following a church division. We are prepared to help settle these disputes in or out of court. We have an extensive track record of successes on behalf of many types of churches and affiliated ministries, including:

  • Non-denominational
  • Episcopalian and Anglican
  • Presbyterian
  • Lutheran
  • Methodists
  • Evangelical Free
  • Korean Presbyterian
  • Eastern Orthodox
  • Roman Catholic

Protect Your Church's Reputation and the Members of Your Church Community

In light of the Penn State scandal and other sexual abuse scandals of recent years, there is now increased scrutiny on church leaders to handle allegations of sexual abuse expeditiously and responsibly. Now more than ever, it is absolutely vital that churches, in particular, adopt clear sexual abuse policies.

The topic of sexual abuse, particularly child sexual abuse, is not an easy one. Many church leaders may feel uncomfortable discussing these issues and may feel that a sexual abuse policy is unnecessary. If you or your church feels this way, we understand. But it is absolutely imperative to implement a sexual abuse policy in your church sooner than later in order to protect your church and the members of your church community.

We can work with your church discreetly in order to help you draft and implement an ethically and legally responsible sexual abuse policy. If your church already has such a policy in place, we can review your policy to ensure that your church and its members are protected and made fully aware of your church's stance on sexual abuse and your church's reporting procedure. And, if allegations against your church or church leaders have already been made, we can help your church resolve the matter through Alternative Dispute Resolution or civil litigation.

For help with your church or religious ministry, please contact: Chip Grange, Steve King, Scott Ward, or Patrick Purtill.

Call For a Consultation With a Virginia Church and Real Property Disputes Lawyer

For more information on how we put our more than 35 years of legal experience to work for you, contact our church law attorneys online or call us toll free at 866-896-7682 to schedule an initial consultation to discuss your situation. Discover for yourself how we earned our reputation for legal excellence and our track record of success.

With offices in Virginia, the law firm of Gammon & Grange, P.C., represents clients nationwide.