As we all know, in America we have enjoyed many religious freedoms in our society. Those have always included protections for churches and religious organizations like Youth for Christ to hire only Christian staff and volunteers. It is difficult to imagine trying to operate a Christian ministry with anyone other than committed Christian leaders and staff. But the unthinkable is rapidly creeping into our federal, state, and local laws and every ministry organization will need to take proactive steps to maximize its ability to function in the future the way we have in the past.

       Challenges to ministries are taking place all across the country in hiring practices. Most revolve around the question: “Why do you need a committed Christian to do that job? Why can’t a nonbeliever handle your receptionist desk, perform janitorial functions, or take care of your bookkeeping and accounting tasks? What is religious about those functions?”

       Similar challenges are popping up like this: “Your organization’s functions and activities appear to us to be exactly like other nonprofits that are not faith based, so why should you be allowed to avoid secular hiring laws that apply to them?” World Vision as an example has been the recent target of a legal challenge that argues essentially - that World Vision is not religious enough. Their opposition argued that World Vision is essentially like the Red Cross and other secular relief agencies. So why should any religious based hiring privileges apply to World Vision?

       So my question to all of you in YFC is this: Through the eyes of local and state regulators, judges and lawmakers are you “religious enough?” Can you explain clearly why all of your staff and volunteers must be on the same page when it comes to matters of faith? I trust you all believe the same essentials in your faith, but can you prove it to a governmental official if necessary? Here are some suggestions on making things go better if your ministry is ever called upon to justify its status as a “religious organization”.

  1. Begin with reviewing your Articles of Incorporation to see exactly what they say on the subject of your religious goals and activities. You should also check with your state to see how they have categorized your ministry. If it is a secular characterization like simply a “charity” or a “welfare/relief organization”, you should strongly consider taking steps to get that designation changed. In California for example, it has come to light that many older ministries may have been originally characterized as a generic “welfare organization”. Those ministries should not delay in filing appropriate documents to be re¬-classified as a “religious organization”.
  2. Similarly review your Bylaws concerning the qualifications to be a board member or a corporate officer. Consider adding detailed religious and spiritual qualifications for those leaders if your Bylaws have omitted those kinds of requirements. Examples of such provisions would address life style standards, local church membership, working knowledge of scriptures, regarded by peers as a committed believer, being willing and prepared to lead worship and prayer times, etc.
  3. Review your ministries Employment and Volunteer Applications, your Personnel Handbook and other similar policy statements that address staff and volunteer requirements and qualifications. If not included currently, please consider adding provisions that requires each person to agree with your Statement of Faith, that they will likely be called upon at various times to assist in leading staff worship times, they may lead a Bible study, be called upon to share their faith with people with whom you minister, etc. All with a view toward answering the key question: “Why do you need a committed Christian to do that job?”

This information is not considered to be legal or tax advice or services. Professional advice on specific issues should be obtained from an attorney licensed in your particular state.

© Carl F. Lansing, Lansing Legal, Denver, Colorado June 2011 - [email protected]

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