As Boy Scouts of America bankruptcy plan progresses, UMC urges congregations to consider legal liability – Baptist News Global

Should churches chartering the Boy Scouts of America packs or troops continue their affiliation with the organization in light of its ongoing bankruptcy proceedings? The answer for United Methodist congregations is “no,” according to an announcement by UMC officials.

This call for disaffiliation is important because United Methodist churches are the largest remaining source of BSA organizational charters, now that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints severed formal ties with BSA last year, removing 400,000 young people from BSA programs chartered by Mormon congregations to create its own global youth development program.

In Scout structures, “chartered organizations”Are churches, schools, clubs or individuals who agree to work with a local BSA council to be in charge of a Boy Scout troop or Cub Scout pack, often providing meeting space and a identity. As recently as a a decade ago, at least two-thirds of BSA chartered organizations were churches, with Mormons accounting for 37% of all units and UMC churches accounting for an additional 10%.

Just ten years ago, at least two-thirds of BSA chartered organizations were churches.

Baptist congregations, and in particular Southern Baptist congregations, have sponsored BSA packs and troops less often, in part because of the SBC’s own age-categorized programs, including Royal Ambassadors and Girls in Action.

Ongoing litigation issues

The current problem is the potential liability these chartered organizations could incur as the BSA works in bankruptcy court over tens of thousands of child sexual abuse claims dating back decades. On August 19, a federal judge overseeing the bankruptcy case approved the BSA’s proposal $ 850 million settlement, but the deal still faces opposition, especially from religious groups and other sponsoring organizations.

Due to its deep connection to Scouting dating back over a century, the UMC appointed an ad hoc committee to represent the interests of the denomination in the dispute. This group is currently advising churches in UMC not to retain their chartered status with the BSA, even if they continue to support Scouting in general.

“The denomination continues to have a relationship with the BSA, and churches can continue to support Scout troops,” the committee said in a statement to the churches. “However, the ad hoc committee is disappointed and very concerned that the BSA did not include its sponsoring organizations, the charter groups, in the agreement with the applicants. That leaves up to 5,000 United Methodist congregations in the United States – or more than 15% of American congregations – exposed to potential lawsuits from the surviving plaintiffs. Chartered organizations have been promised by the BSA to be covered by their insurance, but at this time it is not clear to what extent United Methodist congregations will be covered. “

The ad hoc committee recommends that churches in UMC let their organizational charters expire but continue with a “facility use agreement”.

Until matters are clarified, the ad hoc committee recommends that churches in UMC let their organizational charters expire but continue with a “facility use agreement.” This lesser legal entanglement would allegedly limit the legal liability of congregations.

The insurers’ point of view

A year ago, before the most recent bankruptcy court action, a national insurance company that covers many churches posted specific advice on its website regarding the issue of BSA liability. This advice from Mutual of the Fraternity insurance company remained active on the company’s site as of September 1.

“While bankruptcy proceedings may remove some protections and the ability to recover from the Boy Scouts of America for past incidents of sexual abuse or injury, it is unlikely to have an effect on own liability coverage. of a church, ”advises the company. “The effect of bankruptcy will likely eliminate future claims and judgments against BSA for acts or events that took place before the bankruptcy. Indeed, this could eliminate BSA’s obligation to compensate a church for past incidents involving a Boy Scout troop that the church has chartered or lodged.

Some attorneys, the company notes, advise their churches and client organizations to file their own bankruptcy court filings. The deadline for such claims was November 16, 2020.

An important note from the Brotherhood Mutual site is that churches should be wary of the liability insurance status available to BSA chartered organizations after BSA emerges from bankruptcy.

“If your department has ever hosted or chartered a Boy Scout troop and is wondering whether it should take any action in connection with the BSA bankruptcy case, you should consult a local lawyer,” advises Brotherhood Mutual. “If your ministry is part of a denomination, it would also be a good idea to check with your local, regional or national headquarters for guidance. “

An important note from the Brotherhood Mutual site is that churches should be wary of the liability insurance status available to BSA chartered organizations after BSA emerges from bankruptcy.

“Although BSA has historically agreed to indemnify charter churches and provide liability insurance on their behalf, this obligation is unlikely to remain after BSA’s bankruptcy,” he explains. “If BSA liability insurance coverage is no longer available to charter churches, then the churches’ own liability insurance will likely apply. This is especially true if the chartered organization church is being sued directly. “

Anne G. Cash

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