Religious Liberties

T he first clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution commands that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The right to free exercise of religion has often been referred to as our “first freedom,” first in the Constitution but, more importantly, first in importance.

James Madison underscored the importance of religious liberty when he wrote in A Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments that:

The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right. It is unalienable, because… what is here a right towards men, is a duty towards the Creator.

Today we often see governmental bodies and officials encroaching on freedom of religion. These encroachments take many forms, from local regulations to federal laws.

Our attorneys at Provident Law® understand the importance of religious liberty and the need to protect it through constant vigilance. Indeed, as James Madison went on to write, “It is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties.”  We have an extensive background in litigating religious liberty issues and in advising clients on when and how to protect their religious liberties.

In a society that is increasingly regulated, religious liberty challenges arise in numerous areas. Some of them include:

  • Employment matters
  • Zoning and land use laws
  • Tax exemption
  • Government regulations
  • Facility use issues
  • Equal access to government benefits

These areas are not the only areas where religious liberty challenges arise. But to help illustrate how some of these challenges can come about, each is expanded upon below.

Employment matters

Religious institutions have the right to prefer members of their own faith in hiring, firing, and other employment decisions. Employment discrimination laws can infringe on this right.  The attorneys at Provident Law® know how to navigate employment law challenges to protect the rights of religious institutions. If, as they say, “personnel is policy,” then protecting the employment rights of your organization is of vital importance.

Zoning and land use laws

Religious institutions must have a space from which to minister and fulfill their mission. This means that, at least once in their lifespan, an organization will encounter a land use issue. Zoning laws can be confusing and can infringe upon, or even outright deny, use of property by religious organizations. The attorneys at Provident Law® have successfully handled numerous zoning and land use issues and can help your organization successfully navigate this area of the law.

Zoning and land use laws

Religious institutions must have a space from which to minister and fulfill their mission. This means that, at least once in their lifespan, an organization will encounter a land use issue. Zoning laws can be confusing and can infringe upon, or even outright deny, use of property by religious organizations. The attorneys at Provident Law® have successfully handled numerous zoning and land use issues and can help your organization successfully navigate this area of the law.

Government regulations

Government regulations are an increasing problem for religious institutions. For example, churches and religious organizations have recently had to defend religious liberty from federal and state healthcare mandates that violate their free exercise of religion. Let us help you assess whether a government regulation has crossed the line. We will work hard to defend your religious liberty from government intrusion.

Facility use issues

The advent and proliferation of laws prohibiting discrimination in places of public accommodation are a concern to churches and religious organizations. Our attorneys can help you assess the risk that your church or organization’s facility will become subject to a nondiscrimination ordinance that may force you to open your facility in ways that violate your faith. We can counsel you on the best policies and practical strategies to ensure your facilities are used only in ways consistent with your religious beliefs.

Equal access to government benefits or facilities

Government benefits should be available to all on an equal footing. Recently one church was denied participation in a government recycling benefits program solely because of its religious status. Other churches have been denied use of public school facilities or government community centers to hold worship services. These kinds of exclusions are unconstitutional. The attorneys at Provident Law® can help when your ministry encounters such an exclusion.

Religious liberty is important. When religious liberty is trampled, other civil liberties are sure to be trampled in its wake. After all, a government that believes it is powerful enough to trample religious liberty believes it is powerful enough to infringe upon other rights as well.

Let the attorneys at Provident Law® be your partner in protecting religious liberty.