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Religious Organizations

Lathrop Gage has a strong tradition of representing churches, synagogues and other religious organizations.  We represent these organizations in a variety of matters, including:

  • Free speech, free exercise of religion, privileged communication between clergy and members and separation of church and state issues
  • Dispute resolution issues in the context of clergy and lay persons, including implementation of proactive measures to prevent disputes, handling disputes between members and between members and clergy, setting up volunteer screening and emergency response programs, and dealing with child abuse prevention issues
  • Governance issues, including structuring relationships between and among religious organizations’ denominations or other local entities, governing bodies, members, employees, visitors, and others; dealing with federal, state, and local reporting requirements for nonprofit religious entities; handling incorporation and other formational and organizational issues involved in the formation of religious organizations and their outreach ministries and other affiliates; and in making changes in the organizational structure of these organizations (such as through amendments to articles of incorporation, bylaws, and other governing instruments)
  • Tax issues, including special issues applicable to obtaining recognition from the Internal Revenue Service and from state and local governments of tax-exempt status, payroll tax requirements (including in particular special social security and income tax rules applicable to religious organizations’ employees), and the special tax treatment accorded to ministers 
  • Real estate development-type needs for religious organizations that move or expand

In addition to these unique issues, religious organizations have many of the same legal needs as do other charitable organizations, including:

  • Planned giving programs
  • Tax-free bond financing projects
  • Securities law exemptions applicable to tax-exempt organization financings
  • Bargain-sale transactions
  • Fund raising and stewardship programs 
  • Real estate acquisition and zoning matters
  • Building construction projects
  • Financing transactions
  • Labor and employment matters
  • Reviewing insurance coverages and defending against claims
  • Employee benefits matters

Representative Experience:

  • Represent the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City - St. Joseph, the general board of the Church of the Nazarene, and numerous other churches, religious organizations and religious orders in connection with a wide variety of corporate, governance, real estate, education, employment, benefits, litigation, tax and other matters.
  • Act as outside counsel for an international religious organization headquartered in Independence, Missouri. Among other things, we have consulted with the church on national and international pension matters, provided advice to the church regarding counseling and liability issues, and represented the church in real estate and litigation matters.
  • Defended many religious organization clients in Family and Medical Leave Act and Americans with Disabilities Act claims. In this regard, we have provided training on anti-discrimination laws and harassment issues and policies to various religious organization clients.
  • Represented a number of religious organizations for an organization of affiliated faith-based initiatives in the organization, formation, and qualification for federal tax-exempt status of a number of church-related outreach and mission organizations such as an inner-city ministry, a ministry to persons confined to assisted living facilities, a citywide ecumenical organization of churches for joint musical programs and events, a ministry providing medical care, training and equip­ment to East Africa and an inner-city medical clinic.
  • Represented an inner-city emergency food and shelter provider in various real estate and environmental issues, including a substantial land donation.