Disputes Involving Religious Institutions

By their nature, religious organizations bring an additional, unique set of complexities into the courtroom. Representing religious entities in litigation requires sensitivity to hierarchical and congregational governance models, canonical codes, traditions, and histories as well as an understanding of secular law.

Over the years, Hemenway & Barnes has represented dioceses, churches, synagogues, religious universities and schools, and nonprofit institutions in a wide variety of matters, including:

  • First Amendment issues
  • Property disputes
  • Government grants
  • Disaffiliation
  • Employment law
  • Land use and zoning
  • Local, state and federal tax issues
  • Clergy discipline

Clients have also sought our attorneys’ highly regarded counsel for cases involving the Dover Amendment, RLUIPA, education law and tax law at both trial and appellate levels.

Representative Experience

  • Representing the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts in numerous cases interpreting the First Amendment and the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, establishing clear limits for court involvement in disputes involving hierarchical churches. Parish of the Advent v. Protestant Episcopal Diocese, 426 Mass. 268; Sandy Williams vs. Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, 436 Mass. 574.
  • Successfully represented a religious organization in challenging the city’s attempt to tax real estate used for religious purposes, providing definitive guidance on the scope of the tax exemption for “houses of religious worship,” in Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette v. Bd. of Assessors of Attleboro, 476 Mass. 690 (2017).
  • Submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Judicial Court in the case of Caplan v. Town of Acton over the extent to which public funding may be given – via grants or other financial incentives – to nonprofit organizations to preserve or rehabilitate historic structures, in this case three historically significant buildings owned by the Acton Congregational Church.
  • Represented the Episcopal diocese in securing the largest-ever Community Preservation Act grant to a house of worship.

Team Spotlights

Ryan P. McManus

Ryan McManus concentrates his practice in the areas of fiduciary and business litigation. He represents clients in state and federal courts, and in alternative dispute resolution.

SJC decision sets precedent for state’s religious institutions

Hemenway & Barnes secured a significant appellate victory on behalf of the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette. The SJC ruled on appeal that La Salette is exempt from local property taxes on the basis that the property is and was used for religious worship and instruction and purposes related to or supporting its dominant religious use.

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