The Illinois appellate courts continue grappling with a new statute intended to bring clarity to nonprofit hospitals’ qualification for property tax exemption. May such qualification be established through a certain amount of charitable activities, shown in financial terms? These two cases demonstrate that charitable property use – not just charitable ownership and activities – is a nonnegotiable requirement under the Illinois Constitution for all nonprofit property owners.
On his Facebook page, a recently-fired employee posts, “If revenge is sweet and a dish best served cold well, get ready …, the ice cream man is coming,” and texts a former co-worker about “beheading the boss and throwing [him] off the 19th floor. ” How would your nonprofit handle such an alarming threat of violence against the organization or its employees? Unfortunately, threats of violence in the workplace are on the rise – and nonprofits are not immune. As employers and property owners, nonprofit organizations occasionally face the possibility of violence from disgruntled employees, participants in their activities, and others who may take offense. Recent high-profile examples come all too easily to mind, like the horrific workplace shooting in Sacramento and the Charleston church prayer meeting slaughter.
A new legal tool is now available in Illinois to address serious threats: the Illinois Workplace Violence Prevention Act, enacted in 2014. In a nutshell, the Act provides for a special court restraining order – with police back-up – for churches, other religious institutions, and other organizations against persons shown to pose a “credible risk of harm” to others. In addition to implementing general security measures and organizational policies, discussed here, nonprofits may now also proactively address specific threats against the organization or its employees through the Act, as discussed more fully below.
An Iowa church has challenged the Iowa Civil Rights Commission (ICRC) over its interpretation, as published in “A Public Accommodations Provider’s Guide to Iowa Law,” that churches may be included as a “public accommodation” subject to the Iowa Civil Rights Act (Act). Under this unprecedented encroachment on religious liberty, free speech, and other constitutional rights, Iowa churches and other religious organizations are now subject to liability for preaching about their sincerely held Biblical beliefs about sexuality, restricting bathroom and locker room access, and other expressions of religious beliefs.
The recently filed lawsuit, brought by the Alliance Defending Freedom on behalf of the Fort Des Moines Church of Christ, seeks to strike down the law as unconstitutional in multiple respects. In quick response, the ICRC has updated its brochure with some helpful clarifications, but the underlying legal issues are still of great concern.
Background – Churches Left Alone, But Not in Iowa
As religious institutions owning private property, churches have long been able to preach, teach, and determine their facility usage in accordance with their sincerely held religious beliefs without government intervention. In the wake of increasing anti-discrimination protections for sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) and the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell same-sex marriage decision last year, however, a key legal question under state and local law has emerged: whether a church could be considered a “public accommodation” and therefore subject to such laws’ restrictions.