Legal Issues Your Church is (Probably) Facing
Churches are, legally speaking, not-for-profit organizations that are subject to many of the same laws and regulations as other non-profit businesses. Below we explore some of the legal issues that churches often face. If you have a question regarding one of the issues below or any other legal issue facing your church or other religious organization, reach out to a knowledgeable Illinois non-profit lawyer for help and advice.
Maintaining Tax-Exempt Status
The Internal Revenue Service grants tax-exempt status to churches and other religious organizations. Maintaining tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code requires a church to comply with limitations set out in the tax code. Churches cannot, for example, become involved in political activities or legislative lobbying, or they risk losing their tax-exempt status. Religious officials may have difficulty identifying which conduct merely constitutes giving a sermon or stating a viewpoint, such as a view about how a politician or governmental organization is operating, or raising money for some charitable cause, and which conduct crosses the line into political or legislative activity. A dedicated non-profit lawyer can help you maintain your tax-exempt status, advise you on activity which may threaten your tax-exempt status, and help defend against allegations that your organization has disqualified itself from tax-exempt status.
Keeping Clergy Confidentiality and Privilege
Listening to the private concerns of parishioners, whether in the form of confession or to provide spiritual guidance, is one of the most important roles played by clergy and organizations. In order to keep the process open and honest, as is necessary for confession to truly serve its purpose, parishioners have to know that what they say to their pastor or priest is going to remain confidential. The Federal Rules of Evidence, as well as the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure, prevent the court, administrative boards, or other public officers from requiring that accredited clergy persons disclose information they learn from a parishioner in a conversation involving spiritual guidance the parishioner understands to be confidential.
However, there are exceptions to the clergy-penitent privilege, and there may be instances where the scope of the exception is unclear. Some faith-based communications may not apply. If you are called to testify in a civil or criminal case or are questioned by police or federal agents in the course of an investigation, when are you compelled to answer? A knowledgeable Illinois non-profit lawyer can help you navigate these issues and protect the confidences of your parishioners while keeping in line with the law.
Maintaining Adequate Insurance
While property insurance covers a church building and its contents, it does not cover liability risks to the church. Churches may face a variety of civil claims based on allegations of negligence or misconduct. Your non-profit attorney can help you determine what liability insurance is needed to protect the church from a wide variety of legal risks.
Get Help from Experienced Chicago Church Law Attorneys
If your church, religious organization, or other non-profit faces legal issues in Illinois, get a seasoned and professional opinion on how to proceed by contacting the Chicago church and non-profit attorneys at MacDonald, Lee & Senechalle in Hoffman Estates at 847-310-0025 and in Des Plaines at 847-298-5030.