- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 16, 2004

A Washington conference on the legal issues facing religious organizations, including the way they are taxed, their connections to terrorist activities and whether they should receive government funding, is slated for Wednesday and Thursday.

Questions to be addressed on both days will include how much liability insurance churches can expect to receive in the wake of heavily publicized sex scandals, government funding to preserve religious buildings and issues that Catholic universities face if they refuse to provide contraceptives or abortions to students.

“To date, this is the only conference focusing on religious organizations that brings together the federal officials who are making the laws and rules with representatives of those organizations and their counsel,” said Lloyd Mayer, a lawyer with the D.C. tax firm Caplin & Drysdale and a co-chairman of the conference.

Organizers say they aim to bring religious officials, lawyers and Internal Revenue Service officials together to discuss what tax-exempt religious organizations should do in today’s changing legal environment. Because many religious groups take positions against same-sex “marriage,” some local governments already have suggested that they should not be allowed to retain their tax-exempt status.

A pre-conference on giving to religious organizations will be at 1 p.m. Wednesday at Wesley Theological Seminary in Northwest, with a speech by the Rev. Kenneth Horne Jr., executive director for the Society of St. Andrew, an Anglican organization.

Most of the day’s workshops will be on endowments, capital-funds campaigns and endowment funding.

The main conference, which starts at 9 a.m. Thursday at the American University College of Law in Northwest, will begin with a workshop on the U.S. government and religious organizations. The two speakers are former U.S. Rep. Bill Archer, a Republican who had represented Texas and is an adviser for PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, and a yet-to-be designated House Democrat.

After that is a workshop on legislative tax developments affecting religious organizations. Speakers include Dean Zerbe, counsel for the Senate Committee on Finance; Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; and J. Brent Walker of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs.

This will be followed by a workshop on tax developments from the executive branch of the U.S. government. The luncheon speaker will be Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

At 2 p.m., a workshop on liability and risk management will be conducted by Mark Chopko, counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Boyd Black, associate counsel for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Other afternoon sessions will be workshops on religiously funded terrorism, government funding of faith-based programs and political activities allowed for religious groups. One of the speakers, Thomas B. Griffith, assistant to the president and counsel for Brigham Young University, has been nominated by President Bush for a seat on the U.S. District Court of Appeals in the District.

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