Religious Institutions

Religious institutions have a distinguished and special place in our history and laws, which were created to protect the practice of each person's faith. 

The great diversity of work that religious organizations undertake touches many areas of secular law.  Most law firms treat religious organizations like just another "corporate client."   We do not.  For nearly fifty years, we have helped a large and diverse group of faith-based organizations navigate what can be foreign, and at times hostile, secular laws in a manner consistent with the principles of their faith.  In courts across the country, we represent religious institutions in a broad range of matters, from battles to protect First Amendment religious freedoms to challenging local regulations in an effort to protect the rights of faith-based groups. 

Religious institutions have unique structural, ethical and moral requirements that must always come first.  We ensure that they do.

Litigation

Michael D. Plachy
Michael D. Plachy
Practice Group Leader, Partner
Denver
mplachy@​lrrc.com
303.628.9532 / vCard
Scott M. Browning
Scott M. Browning
Partner
Denver
sbrowning@​lrrc.com
303.628.9540 / vCard
David D. Garner
David D. Garner
Partner
Phoenix
dgarner@​lrrc.com
602.262.5335 / vCard
Charles Goldberg
Charles Goldberg
Partner
Denver
cgoldberg@​lrrc.com
303.628.9533 / vCard
Eric V. Hall
Eric V. Hall
Partner
Colorado Springs
ehall@​lrrc.com
719.386.3030 / vCard
Alex C. Myers
Alex C. Myers
Partner
Denver
amyers@​lrrc.com
303.628.9502 / vCard
L. Martin Nussbaum
L. Martin Nussbaum
Partner
Colorado Springs
mnussbaum@​lrrc.com
719.386.3004 / vCard
Robert G. Schaffer
Robert G. Schaffer
Partner
Phoenix
bschaffer@​lrrc.com
602.262.0271 / vCard
Susan Strebel Sperber
Susan Strebel Sperber
Partner
Denver
ssperber@​lrrc.com
303.628.9563 / vCard
Eric N. Kniffin
Eric N. Kniffin
Of Counsel
Colorado Springs
ekniffin@​lrrc.com
719.386.3017 / vCard
Matthew Mellema
Matthew Mellema
Associate
Colorado Springs
mmellema@​lrrc.com
719.386.3050 / vCard
Ian Speir
Ian Speir
Associate
Colorado Springs
ispeir@​lrrc.com
719.386.3059 / vCard
Amanda L. Thatcher
Amanda L. Thatcher
Associate
Phoenix
athatcher@​lrrc.com
602.262.0848 / vCard
Joan M. Rennekamp
Joan M. Rennekamp
Human Resources Professional
Colorado Springs
jrennekamp@​lrrc.com
719.386.3009 / vCard

Business Transactions

Scott K. Brown
Scott K. Brown
Partner
Phoenix
sbrown@​lrrc.com
602.262.5321 / vCard
H. William Mahaffey
H. William Mahaffey
Partner
Colorado Springs
wmahaffey@​lrrc.com
719.386.3005 / vCard
Mark A. Meyer
Mark A. Meyer
Partner
Denver
mmeyer@​lrrc.com
303.628.9570 / vCard
Nicholas N. Dyer
Nicholas N. Dyer
Associate
Colorado Springs
ndyer@​lrrc.com
719.386.3056 / vCard

Intellectual Property

Nathaniel W. Edwards
Nathaniel W. Edwards
Counsel
Phoenix, Colorado Springs
nedwards@​lrrc.com
602.262.5367 / vCard
Kyle N. Siegal
Kyle N. Siegal
Associate
Phoenix, Silicon Valley
ksiegal@​lrrc.com
602.262.0809 / vCard

Regulatory & Government

Trey Rogers
Trey Rogers
Partner
Denver
trogers@​lrrc.com
303.628.9506 / vCard
Dieter J. Raemdonck
Dieter J. Raemdonck
Associate
Denver
draemdonck@​lrrc.com
303.628.9520 / vCard

Secured dismissal of the Archdiocese of Denver who was sued in state court of New Mexico; court dismissed finding no long arm jurisdiction

Legal brief and evidentiary dossier delivered to Secretary of State John Kerry that persuaded him to issue the State Department’s second-ever declaration of genocide under federal and international law and ensuring that the declaration specifically referenced Christians as among those faith communities at risk.  See Genocide Against Christians At Risk at http://blog.lrrc.com/churchstate/files/2014/12/Genocide-report.pdf.

Amicus briefs with the United States Supreme Court in Zubik v. Sebelius  and Little Sisters of the Poor v. Sebelius--two on behalf of the Catholic Benefits Association and one on behalf of the Knights of Columbus—where one of the briefs became a source of questioning during the oral argument and the other so undermined the basis of decision by each of four U.S. Courts of Appeals that the Supreme Court justices focused exclusively on other issues thereafter.  See http://www.catholicbenefitsassociation.com/cbn/en/resources/LittleSisters-Amicus-Brief-MERITS.pdf.

Persuaded the Colorado Court of Appeals that the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act and Colorado’s Freedom to Gather to Worship Act barred a town from enforcing a parking ordinance against a start-up congregation to prevent parishioners from attending parish meetings in the pastor’s residence.  Town of Foxfield v. Archdiocese of Denver (Colo. App. 2006).

Convinced the U. S. District Court in Colorado to grant summary judgment for a denomination  where a Sunday School teacher had intercourse with 15-year old girl on the ground that:  there is no fiduciary relationship between Sunday School teacher and visiting student; there is no legal duty for a church to hire or supervise with concern as to the teacher’s after hours, off premises misconduct; the perpetrator’s prior domestic strife did not constitute notice of potential heightened risk of child sexual abuse.  Lindeman v. Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (D. Colo. 2014).

Utilized the advantages of associational standing to acquire preliminary injunctive relief for over 700 Catholic employers from the HHS contraceptive/abortifacient mandate.  Catholic Benefits Association v. Sebelius (D. Okla. 2014).

Assisted religious organizations with a host of complex real estate issues including, for example,  (a) acquiring rezoning; (b) addressing neighborhood opposition; (c) resolving competing condemnation issues over the right of a railroad to cross cemetery property; (d) vindicating, through litigation, the air rights of an irreplaceable downtown church against a developer who ran out of cash, ceased construction on the wraparound skyscraper after building only four floors of a planned twenty floor structure, and pressuring the church to surrender its rights under a seven figure secured promissory note owed to the church.

Created “zero tolerance” sexual misconduct policies with mandatory reporting provisions for religious institutions twenty-five  years before the Boston church scandal erupted.

Defeated, after full jury trial, claims of undue influence brought to negate a parishioner’s late-in-life will that left his estate to his church.

Successfully invoked the First Amendment ecclesiastical abstention doctrine to defeat former church members’ lawsuit seeking to remove church leadership and persuading Arizona Court of Appeals to affirm the dismissal. 

Formed broad interfaith religious coalitions in support of amicus advocacy on religious liberty issues; in support of legislation regarding confidential clergy communications and tax exempt bond financing; and in opposition to regulation of pastoral counseling and retroactive revival of time-barred sexual abuse claims.

Intervened in a lawsuit, on behalf of a denomination, in which a man sued his former wife for defamation based on statements made in her annulment proceedings before an ecclesiastical tribunal, persuading the court to dismiss the action because its further adjudication would violate the First Amendment Doctrine of Church Autonomy, and convincing the Kansas Court of Appeals to affirm the decision below.  Purdum v. Purdum (Kan. App. 2013).

Prevailed in a secessionist congregation dispute to preserve property for the denomination in accordance with church law after a four and one half week trial, the longest church trial in Colorado history; prevailing, by opening motion, in another church schism case in which competing factions each claimed to represent the lawful officers and directors of the religious society; and, in another, negotiating a respectful and amicable separation of a congregation from its historic denomination.

Overturned a planning commission’s unanimous unfavorable decision denying expansion of church facilities and achieving in its place a unanimous favorable decision by the city council approving property re-zoning and preliminary construction plan approval; 

Formed fact-finding teams, conducting investigations, managing crisis communications   involving allegations of sexual impropriety by multiple international prominent religious leaders.

Prompted courts in California and New Mexico to clergy sexual abuse complaints for lack of long arm jurisdiction over religious organizations headquartered and operated in another state  even though the abuse allegedly occurred in the forum state.

Won summary judgment for a denomination against claims based on alleged clergy sexual abuse of a minor by persuading a federal trial court to rule that both that the First Amendment barred a negligent hiring and outrageous conduct claim and that these claims were barred by the statute of limitations and by acquiring affirmation by the U.S. Court of Appeals of the limitations bar.  Ayon v. Gourley (D. Colo. 1998).

Defeated numerous employment claims brought by ministers by invoking the First Amendment Ministerial exception, and doing so at every level, including city human rights commissions, EEOC administrative processes, state and federal courts of appeal, and statute supreme courts.  See, e.g. Powell v. Stafford (D. Colo. 1994); Bryce v. Episcopal Diocese of Colorado (10th Cir. 2002); Williams v. Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts (Mass. 2002).

Divested assets of a congregation that were outside of the church’s mission while assisting the it in implementing a strategy that preserved its financial return from the unrelated business venture.

Related News

09/07/2016
September ABI Journal includes article from Scott K. Brown
Bankruptcy attorney from Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie writes ‘Don't Hate Me for Being Critical'
11/12/2015
Special report focuses on legal challenges facing religious institutions
Heritage Foundation publishes report by Lewis Roca Rothgerber attorney Eric N. Kniffin

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Alert

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A Match Made in Heaven: Green Energy/Sustainability and Religion
Published by Rothergerber, Johnson & Lyons LLP

Other Publications

September 28, 2011

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Blog(s)

Key Contacts

L. Martin Nussbaum
L. Martin Nussbaum
Partner
719.386.3004
Scott M. Browning
Scott M. Browning
Partner
303.628.9540