Are Pastors Exempt?

You’d be surprised how often I’m asked, “Are ministers (rabbis, preachers, priests, chaplains, etc.) really exempt from Jury Duty?”  That’s like asking an attorney what the Statute of Limitations is for a car accident.  For example, for a personal injury sustained in an automobile accident in the state of Alabama, the Statute of Limitations is two years.  In Florida, it’s four years, and in Kentucky, it’s just one.  But if the person died in the accident in Florida, then it’s two years.  In Illinois, the time allotted by law to file a lawsuit for the damage to your vehicle in an auto accident is five years, but the time allowed to sue the person who hit you for your injuries sustained in that same accident is two years.  Then again, the time you have in which to sue your own insurance company for coverage for the same accident is ten years.

So, as a member of the clergy, are you exempt from jury duty?  In the past, it was not uncommon for people who were otherwise qualified to serve on a jury to seek exemption based on their occupation. Occupational exemptions included physicians, attorneys, coroners, first responders, and clergymen. The reason members of such professions were exempt was that they performed functions necessary to the public interest. However, shortly after the turn of the century, twenty-six states eliminated occupational exemptions entirely, and an additional nine placed stringent restrictions on them.  Currently, in some states, automatic occupational exemptions are only available to the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor, Clerks of Court, and Judges.

Now that you know there is a good chance that you can indeed be called upon to serve on a jury, the next question is, “Do I morally, ethically, or ecclesiastically feel that I can sit on a jury?”  Matthew 7:1 tells us to “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”  Several verses in I Corinthians instruct us to decide matters within the church and not to sit in judgement of those outside the church.  But aside from the Bible, Church Law does not contradict State Law and prohibit members of the clergy from serving on a jury where the law of the land would require them to do so.

So, now that you have this inner struggle, what do you do?  First, you check the statutes of your state and see if you may be eligible for occupational exemption.  If not, you may be allowed one deferment without giving a reason.  If you are not allowed a deferment or are called to serve after a deferment, then without a doubt, you must participate.  

Once you’ve checked into the Courthouse, you’re put in a jury pool and divided into groups.  After filling out some paperwork, each group is assigned a courtroom where you’ll be given a number.  At that point, the Plaintiff’s attorney and the Defense attorney will give a brief overview of what the case is about and why their client should win.  Once you know what the case specifically entails, whether it’s a civil case or a criminal case, then you’ll also have a better idea of whether or not your conscious will allow you to remain on the jury.  

Then the attorneys will each ask questions of the potential jurors, one by one.  They might ask general things such as, “What do the bumper stickers on your car say?” then they’ll ask more personal questions such as, “Do you believe in capital punishment?” or, “Do you believe sex offenders can be rehabilitated?”  Finally, the judge will ask each person if they have any type of undue hardship which should cause consideration from exemption of jury duty.

This jury selection process is what’s known in the legal community as “voir dire.”  After each of the potential jurors are interviewed, the judge may automatically excuse someone.  If that happens, that person is generally escorted out before the next step.  Then both attorneys are assigned a certain number of “peremptory challenges” (usually three each), which they may use to strike a potential juror without having to give a reason.  This peremptory challenge allows an attorney to dismiss a potential juror who might harbor prejudices that could infringe upon the rights of their client to a fair trial.

As a member of the clergy who may not feel comfortable serving on a jury, here’s what you need to know:  Depending on the type of case and the scheduled length of the trial, it might be a hardship for you to be unavailable to your congregation for that length of time, especially if you are alone in your church.  The judge may excuse you early on for this reason alone.  Because clergy members come into contact with so many people in the professional lives, it’s not out of the scope of possibility that you know someone involved in the trial.  This may be enough of a conflict of interest to get you excused from jury duty.  Oftentimes, clergy work closely with first responders as well as government officials.  This, too, could be considered a conflict of interest when you would have to listen to testimony from these individuals.  Finally, there is a preconceived notion that pastors, ministers, rabbis, priests, etc., have a tendency to be more sympathetic to criminals, and this notion alone may be enough to warrant a dismissal of jury duty.

At the end of the day, while your state may not allow you to claim occupational exemption from jury duty, there is still a good chance that you may not have to serve.  Just leave the matter in God’s hands and pray for His will.  And if He sees fit to place you on that jury, trust that He has a reason, and listen for His instruction as far as how to vote or how you might be used to change the mind of another juror who may not know God.

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Dean Burnetti is a personal injury attorney who practices law in Central Florida.  He received a Pastoral Ministries degree from Oklahoma Baptist Seminary in 1980, and he dedicates a portion of time at his law practice to assisting clergy members with legal matters involved in their service to the Lord.

*Unless otherwise noted, the legal opinions given above apply to clergy personnel in the State of Florida.  It is important to note that each member of the clergy should be aware of current laws that govern their own state.  Furthermore, the information contained herein is a legal opinion, and should not be construed as legal advice.

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Dean Burnetti is a personal injury attorney who practices law in Central Florida. He received a Pastoral Ministries degree from Oklahoma Baptist Seminary in 1980, and he dedicates a portion of time at his law practice to assisting clergy members with legal matters involved in their service to the Lord.
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Protect Your Mission Trip Warriors!

Melissa D. of Atlee Community Church out of Mechanicsville, Virginia, wrote on the wall of her church’s Mission Trip to Ecuador Facebook page: I am just finding out that Tommy was hurt today while on his mission trip in Ecuador. He fell through a roof onto a concrete floor. The praise report is that he was not hurt any worse than he was. He has a cracked pelvis, a broken finger on his left hand and they also had to put pins in his left wrist. Now, all that sounds bad, but I know God protected him from it being much more serious! He will have to stay in the hospital for two days and then they will decide what needs to happen next.”

The chances that your church has taken a missions trip are high. The chances that they’ve had missions trip insurance when they did so are not so high. “We’ve been taking missions trips just fine since the church was founded and never had any issues,” you might say. “What’s the point in adding unnecessary expenses to the missions budget?”

In all seriousness, when you travel, especially internationally, there’s a good chance your health insurance or even your liability insurance doesn’t travel with you, and you’re therefore exposed to significant financial risk in the event something terrible happens. You could get really sick or you could be injured. You may have to be evacuated due to a medical event, a political event, terrorism, or a natural disaster (think earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, etc.)

Perhaps Tommy works a great steady job with awesome benefits here in the States, however, is that insurance effective overseas? Will Tommy’s doctor AND hospital bills be covered? Will he have to be moved back to the States with any added precautions, and if so, will those expenses be taken care of? Once he returns, will he be able to work at his job? If not, will his jobs benefits cover an injury he received off the job in another country in a volunteer situation? And never mind his personal insurance. What about the church insurance? Will their liability insurance take a hit?

These are all things that fall under the heading: stuff happens! No matter if your church is planning their 1st missions trip or their 100th, missions trip insurance is no longer an option; it’s a vital component, and you should customize your insurance for your specific needs – nothing more, nothing less.

Here are a few of the many options to consider:

  • Medical insurance for groups of five or more traveling abroad
  • Medical insurance for individuals involved in educational or cultural exchange

Travel protection program

  • First class travel protection
  • Medical insurance and travel protection for international travelers
  • First class travel medical insurance and travel protection for international travelers
  • Medical insurance for traveling executives
  • Medical insurance for organizations with five or more traveling executives
  • Long-term, worldwide medical insurance for individuals and groups of international students
  • Medical insurance for groups of two or more involved in educational or cultural exchange and study abroad programs

Quote taken from
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Atlee-Community-Church-Mission-trip-to-Ecuador/307652834933

This blog provided to you by Strong Tower Insurance, Inc. Strong Tower Insurance is pleased to partner with All Pro Pastors in support of pastors and their congregations by offering a variety of insurance solutions to protect the mission of the church!

Note: Earl and Carolyn Burkett owner’s of Strongtower Insurance specialize in Church and Ministry insurance. They are committed to serving Jesus in their business and we have asked them to provide articles and information that may help you. We can confidently say they care about those they serve!

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President of Strong Tower Insurance, Inc.
Graduate of Lee University
Credentialed minister in the Church of God
Certified Insurance Counselor
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Operating in Social Media Denial

Is your organization suffering from social media denial?

Despite 60 percent of Americans using some form of social media, according to the Pew Research Center, the prevailing belief by businesses is that social media is a fad, a phenomenon, just another version of the Internet.

In fact, 72 percent of businesses don’t even have a clear strategy or goals for social media activities, according to study by the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Darla Moore School of Business researcher Rob Ployhart is working to change that. The management professor is conducting some of the first studies on social media and its use as a business strategy. To help executives struggling with the issue now, Ployhart provided guidance in a report released late October by SHRM.

“There is a lot of hype that goes along with technology,” Ployhart says. “After doing this review, I’m convinced that social media is radically different and that existing theories about communications can’t be applied the same way. It puts incredible power in the hands of employees and customers. One person sharing on social media is more powerful than 50 or more people saying it.”

Ployhart says one of the main reasons businesses haven’t pursued a social media strategy is the lack of data tied to return on investment.

“Usually people think about social media from the employee issue part of it – for disciplinary, firing and hiring – by establishing social media policies for what employees can and can’t do. They’re not looking at it from ‘how can I use this to drive results for my business?’” Says Ployhart, the Band of America Professor of Business Administration in the University of South Carolina’s Moore School.

He says a social media strategy for an organization must be supported by a set of company-wide policies that then are implemented as necessary throughout each department.

“In today’s world, we are all interconnected. Companies that are thinking about this proactively are the ones that are probably going to have an advantage in leveraging this technology,” Ployhart says. “I’d be surprised if the first few companies that get in there don’t have a lasting competitive advantage.”

“Many employees are reaching retirement age. So, how do we push knowledge down to younger employees?” he says.

“Social media and networking is exactly the way we should start thinking about it, and it is not even on the radar screen for most managers because they themselves are not comfortable with it or use it or see it in that kind of way. What they don’t understand is that the younger generation expects to use it and expects employers to use it, too.”

Information taken from www.insurancejournal.com

If you’d like to contact Strong Tower Insurance, we’d love to hear from you!
1.800.329.0093
www.mystrongtower.com

This blog provided to you by Strong Tower Insurance, Inc. Strong Tower Insurance is pleased to partner with All Pro Pastors in support of pastors and their congregations by offering a variety of insurance solutions to protect the mission of the church!

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President of Strong Tower Insurance, Inc.
Graduate of Lee University
Credentialed minister in the Church of God
Certified Insurance Counselor
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The Legal Duty of Child Abuse Reporting by Members of the Clergy

“If I suspect a child is being harmed, don’t I have a legal and moral duty to report the suspected abuse, is a question that I’m asked from time to time by various clergy members.  And does this violate the Clergy-Penitent Privilege?”  We all want to see all children safe from abuse and live by the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote, “For evil to succeed, all it needs is for good men to do nothing.”  But even a pastor has a duty to follow the law of our land. 

One of the most difficult facts I have to explain to my clients at times is that “morally right” and “legally right” are sometimes not the same thing.  Morally, you feel that you have a duty to report suspected abuse.  But do you legally have the right to?  When this conundrum pertains to the abuse of a child, it can create a profound ethical dilemma for the clergyman or woman who has knowledge of the abuse.

First, let’s start by examining the meaning of “child abuse.”  The statutes in Florida define child abuse as “Intentional infliction of physical or mental injury upon a child;” or “An intentional act that could reasonably be expected to result in physical or mental injury to a child;” or “Active encouragement of any person to commit an act that results or could reasonably be expected to result in physical or mental injury to a child.”  While I’m certain that similar legal definitions exist in other states, it’s first and foremost important for you to know the exact language of the definition of abuse in your state.  Furthermore, child abuse reporting laws are often amended, so it is of utmost importance for you to review the statutes that govern you and apply to your church on a regular basis.  

The bottom line is that each state and venue has laws designed to protect children from abuse by designating people in certain professions as “mandatory reporters.”  In many states, members of the clergy are mandated to report known or suspected occurrences of abuse on a minor, and they may even face criminal charges for their failure to comply with this law.  However, in some states, clergy members are exempt from alerting authorities to their suspicion or knowledge of abuse if they learned about the abuse during the course and scope of a conversation that is protected by the Clergy-Penitent Privilege.

Again, in Florida, the law defines “Clergy-Penitent Privilege” [in part] as “A confidential communication is between a member of the clergy and their parishioner, if the communication is made privately for the purpose of seeking spiritual counsel and advice from the member of the clergy in the usual course of his or her practice or discipline, and the communication is not intended for further disclosure.  A clergy member has a privilege to refuse to disclose, and to prevent another from disclosing, a confidential communication by the parishioner to a member of the clergy in his or her capacity as a spiritual adviser.”  

And now that we’ve seen exactly what the law [in Florida] defines as “Clergy-Penitent Privilege,” we can see that the law did not release a member of the clergy from reporting their suspicions or knowledge of child abuse if they became aware of the abuse or possible abuse while they were acting in any other capacity of a mandatory reporter.  For example, if a father comes to you privately seeking spiritual help for his alcoholism, and in confessing how his addiction affects his life, he admits to abusing his child, you are bound by the law to keep his confidence and not reveal his admission.  But if he did not come to you seeking spiritual guidance, but rather you witness him striking his child, or you saw bruises on the child, or the child told you she was being abused, then you do have a moral and legal duty to report the abuse.  

Because of this inner struggle, too often, clergy personnel can be torn between fulfilling their legal duty to report suspected abuse and upholding their ecclesiastical obligation not to breach the confidentiality of a privileged communication with their parishioner.  They then assume that they can resolve the matter offering counseling to the abuser and the victim without getting law enforcement involved.  This is a pitfall which can carry serious legal repercussions for the clergyman or woman.  

For example, clergy personnel with knowledge or suspicion of child abuse which was obtained outside of the scope of the Clergy-Penitent Privilege and who fail to comply with their state’s child abuse reporting law may face criminal prosecution.  Furthermore, some states have adopted laws which allow victims of child abuse to sue and some courts have permitted child abuse victims to sue clergy members or the church for failing to report their abuse.

This brings us to the question of whether or not a clergy member can be held liable or reap legal ramifications if they report a suspected incident of abuse that later proves to be unfounded.  The answer is that each state grants limited immunity to those who make such a report.  States encourage abuse to be reported so they can protect their children.  Because of this immunity, clergy members or the church cannot be sued simply for notifying the appropriate authorities of their suspicions of abuse, unless such a claim was made with maliciousness and the intent to harm the person being reported.

If there arises such a time that you must report a suspected incident of child abuse, you should call your state’s Department of Children and Families to file a report.  Be prepared to identify the child, the child’s guardian(s), and the identity of the alleged abuser.  You will also be asked the age of the child, the child’s address, and the nature of the abuse.

Remember, we all have a duty to protect children from abuse.  But we also want to protect ministers within the church from legal problems arising from their reporting an alleged incident of abuse.  The best way for this to be upheld is for the church to have a written policy and procedure manual dealing with mandated reporters and how they should handle such claims.  Furthermore, mandated reporters should be educated and trained by the church how to recognize possible abuse, how to protect children, and how to report an alleged incident of abuse. Your church’s insurer may have information regarding this training.  

Taking all this information into account, it should be noted that while we discuss “Clergy-Penitent Privilege,” in many states, the term “privilege” applies only to courtroom testimony or depositions, and not to the statutory duty to report to a state agency.  The bottom line:  It’s your duty to know the current Child Abuse Reporting law in your state as well as in your church, as it pertains to you.

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Dean Burnetti is a personal injury attorney who practices law in Central Florida.  He received a Pastoral Ministries degree from Oklahoma Baptist Seminary in 1980, and he dedicates a portion of time at his law practice to assisting clergy members with legal matters involved in their service to the Lord.

*Unless otherwise noted, the legal opinions given above apply to clergy personnel in the State of Florida.  It is important to note that each member of the clergy should be aware of current laws that govern their own state.  Furthermore, the information contained herein is a legal opinion, and should not be construed as legal advice.

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Dean Burnetti is a personal injury attorney who practices law in Central Florida. He received a Pastoral Ministries degree from Oklahoma Baptist Seminary in 1980, and he dedicates a portion of time at his law practice to assisting clergy members with legal matters involved in their service to the Lord.
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Does Your Insurance Require Background Screening?

It would be nice to believe we live in Mayberry, where anyone suspicious is immediately locked up in the city jail, faithfully guarded by the ever-skeptical Barney Fife. Yes…that would be nice. However, the world we live in today is a scary place, and let’s face it – whether your non-profit insurance or church insurance “requires” all volunteers and/or workers to have a background screening or not, it’s always a good idea. Not convinced? Read on…


When it comes to your church or organization hiring a new employee or bringing on volunteers, not only are you looking for the best candidate possible, you’re also looking for someone who will properly represent your best interests. Not only does background screening convey the idea that you are serious about protecting your church or organization, but it also helps to defend your congregation against any accusations of negligence.

Douglas Kubacki, a police Sergeant out of Milwakee has dealt with a plethora of situations arising from the lack of a background screening.

“The congregation should develop a set of guidelines for volunteer screening that list the types of background checks performed for each position,” he commented. “For example, it is very important

to run a personal credit check on someone who will be handling the congregation’s finances. If a

position requires driving, request a motor vehicle record, or for a position that has exclusive

contact with children, consult the sex offender and child abuse registry. It also is wise to conduct

screenings, such as motor vehicle and credit checks on a regular basis.”

According to an article posted online at The Birmingham (AL) News, an agency that conducted 5,000 background checks for 450 churches found serious felonies in 80 cases and more than 600 people – almost 1 in 8 – that had some criminal history that may disqualify them from working at a church. (These statistics do not relate to any geographical or denominational breakdowns whatsoever.)

If your organization or church does not have a background screening process in place, now is the time to instigate one. Follow these steps to get started:

  1.  Locate a background screening company who will work side-by-side with you throughout the process. Some examples are:

www.christianbackgroundchecks.com/strongtowerinsurance.html

Note: This blog provided to you by Strong Tower Insurance, Inc. Strong Tower Insurance is pleased to partner with All Pro Pastors in support of pastors and their congregations by offering a variety of insurance solutions to protect the mission of the church!

mm
President of Strong Tower Insurance, Inc.
Graduate of Lee University
Credentialed minister in the Church of God
Certified Insurance Counselor