Although actions affecting religious institutions touch many areas of secular law, these organizations are ultimately bound by unique structural, ethical, and moral requirements.
For nearly 50 years, Lewis Roca has helped faith-based organizations navigate unfamiliar – and, at times, hostile – secular laws in a manner consistent with the principles of their faith. In courts across the country, we have obtained successful outcomes in a broad range of matters, from challenging local regulations to battles to protect First Amendment religious freedoms.
Our lawyers have earned accolades from publications and organizations nationwide, including Chambers USA, Benchmark Litigation, U.S. News – Best Lawyers®, Super Lawyers®, and Nevada Business Magazine. In recognition of his decades-long service to the Catholic Church, Scott M. Browning, who leads the Religious Institutions Group, was named by Pope Francis to the Order of St. Gregory the Great as a Knight of St. Gregory.
We use creative tools and administrative mechanisms to settle complicated cases – including mass action and class action court cases – in defending faith-based groups across the United States. Our clients include a variety of institutions and organizations of all denominations, including Jewish entities, Roman Catholics, Mormons, and all manner of dioceses.
Areas of focus include:
- Alternative dispute resolution
- Class action defense
- Contract disputes
- Employment issues
- Intellectual property protection
- Personal injury claims
- Real estate and construction matters
- Religious liberty and constitutional issues
- Tax services
Notable experience includes:
- Filed 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). One of the briefs became a source of questioning during the oral argument, and the other so undermined the basis of the decision by each of four U.S. Courts of Appeals that the Supreme Court justices focused exclusively on other issues thereafter.
- 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 startup congregation to prevent parishioners from attending parish meetings in the pastor’s residence.
- Assisting religious organizations with a host of complex real estate issues, including (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 and ceased construction on the wraparound skyscraper after building only four floors of a planned 20-floor structure and pressuring the church to surrender its rights under a seven-figure secured promissory note owed to the church.
- Prevailing in church schism disputes. Prevailed in one secessionist congregation dispute to preserve property for the denomination in accordance with church law after a four-and-a-half-week trial, the longest church trial in Colorado history.
- 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 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.
- 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.
- Handling a wide variety of sexual abuse issues, including:
- Convinced the United States District Court for the District of 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 a Sunday school teacher and a visiting student; there is no legal duty for a church to hire or supervise with concern as to the teacher’s off-premises misconduct after hours; the perpetrator’s prior domestic strife did not constitute notice of potential heightened risk of child sexual abuse.
- Created a “zero tolerance” sexual misconduct policy with mandatory reporting provisions for religious institutions 25 years before the Boston church scandal erupted.
- Formed fact-finding teams, conducted investigations, and managed crisis communications involving allegations of sexual impropriety by multiple international prominent religious leaders.
Latest from Lewis Roca
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- Webinar |  02/18/2021