Church Law is Changing

Church Law Changing Today

The laws governing churches is, like every other body of law, changing over time. Different situations and different venues, different judges, and changing values do affect the law. For example, churches are seeing more scrutiny from the courts than they ever had in the past. Church law is evolving, like it or not.

One area in which church law is changing rapidly has to do with tort liability. It used to be that a church was seldom in the cross hairs of a Plaintiff’s attorney because of a tort, that is, a civil wrong done by an official of the church. Today, these suits have become commonplace, and range from individuals who sue their church because of injuries received on the property, to wrongful death cases because of fatal injuries received while performing church work.

Biggest Change in Church Law has to do with Children

The biggest change in church law though, has to do with liability by the churches for harm that comes to children, especially if the harm is from a sexual assault by a church leader, or even a church member. It is a sad reality, but predators who seek child victims sometimes go to church. In a society as huge as ours, it is inevitable that a sexual predator will visit your church some day. While a church is not necessarily liable because a child is harmed, it is going to depend upon what kind of safeguards the church had in place to protect that child. A church policy will embody the safety measures the church has in place.

Church Law: What Kinds of Protection was Afforded the Child?

The first question an attorney is going to want to know is: “What kinds of safeguards, if any, were in place? And, “What kind of church policy, if any, was in place?” A church that does not have a policy in place, or if they do, if it wasn’t a good one, or if it was not followed, may get hit with a jury verdict that is devastating, perhaps even ruinous.

Jury verdicts are up. In Texas, not too many years ago, a church was hit with a verdict of over $30 million dollars. Juries will punish churches that a negligent in the protection of the children in their care. The Catholic Church has learned that lesson, and it is still paying the price for its handling of sexual abuse cases that happened many years ago. If they’d taken steps to protect the children with safeguards, they’d have protected the church from the financial ruin that has plagued them for many long years. Think of the hundreds of millions of dollars donated by faithful church members that have been wasted, all because someone refused to take the necessary steps to protect the children in their care.

Church Law: Statute of Limitations Extended to Majority of Child Plus 2 Years

One thing that a church in the State of Indiana needs to understand is that where a child is molested, while the usual Statute of Limitations begins to run at the moment of injury/harm and ends at the 2 year mark, when the victim is a child, the Statute of Limitations only begins to run from the time the child reaches his or her 18th birthday, and runs for 2 years from that date. Victims have come back to haunt churches and church lawyers have had to wrestle with this problem more and more as the victims emerge.

Church Law: Protect the Children and You will Protect the Church

If your church does not have a serious stance (and a church policy in place, and enforced) about protecting the children in the church, then it is playing a dangerous game. It is one that could destroy the church. Protecting the church is important. A church that protects the child in the church, will protect the church. A church policy is an absolute must. Every plaintiff’s lawyer is going to pursue that issue with a church on behalf of his victim/client. Every lawyer who practices in the area of church law will be very aware of this. Your church had better be prepared to demonstrate that it had a policy in place, that it followed that policy, and that the measures that it took to protect the children in its care was reasonable. If a church cannot show that, then the jury will punish that church. That’s an almost guarantee, today. There’s simply too much of it and the public is fed up with children who are victims in their own churches.

Church law is not a static thing. It is changing with the times. One of those changes is in this area. One can only wonder whether the churches will get the message before it is too late.

Don’t wait until a lawyer one day gives your church a demonstration of church law in this area.

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