Re: Legal issues

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Posted by Thomas J. Cook on February 27, 1998 at 13:01:26:

In Reply to: Legal issues posted by H. Kelly on February 26, 1998 at 21:23:47:

: I'm looking for info on Sunday school and legal responsibilities.........such as teacher/child ratios, escorting little ones to the restroom, men serving in the classrooms, especially responsibility for children in Sunday school and at what point does that responsibility end........

Dear H. K:

A very significant question...and I have to begin with the disclaimer that I am obviously not providing legal advice or counsel. Perhaps some other respondent will have more formal views.

But I can speak from my own experience and from attending several seminars on this topic. First, you ought to contact the insurance provider for your church for information and guidelines about the issues you mention. Many providers are refusing to insure churches if they don't comply with at least some level of policy and documentation, and the insurance companies have a variety of resources to help out. Also contact your state denominational offices; in Ohio the State Convention of Baptists has knowledgable folks available to consult on policies and procedures.

The problem is not a regulatory one (you're right in that "separation of church and state" applies as long as churches don't get into areas such as day care and private schools...which is a totally different story). The problem is one of litigation and liability to civil suit...hence the interest of insurance companies who underwrite your church liability insurance. I am aware of many churches involved in multi-million dollar lawsuits over child abuse issues.

In today's society, a church must have officially adopted and enforced policies to protect your workers and your children against potential allegations and instances of child abuse, negligence, etc. The cynical view is that there are more lawyers per capita today than ever before, and they are bringing lawsuits into new and creative areas which were previously protected from civil suit. Churches, and the insurance companies which back them, represent an untapped source of revenue.
From a different viewpoint, child abuse, etc., is sadly more and more common in today's society, and the church is a place where potential child abusers can historically obtain easy access to children. Finally, today's environment is one in which your workers are susceptible to false charges and need the protection of good policies and procedures to avoid the possibility of an accusation and support a defense against it. There are actually reports of individuals who actually move from church to church looking for opportunities to bring lawsuits.
This is a sad situation, but, fortunately, the same solution addresses each of the areas. Your church needs to adopt appropriate policies in the Preschool, Children's, and Youth areas to protect both the children and the workers, and then see that they are consistently and uniformly enforced and compliance documented. This helps prevent problems in the first place, and provides viable defense in the case of litigation.
Implementation details will vary with situation and local laws. At my church (the Jersey Baptist Church in Ohio) some of the policies in place include:

These are just some of the areas that need to be thought about in advance. Again, this is not in response to government regulation, but a combination of prudence, common sense, and precaution against potential litigation. Please make sure you give due diligence to this area in your Sunday School...and thanks for bringing up this important point!

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