The liberty principle for this Freedom Friday concerns the need for us to know our religious rights, freedoms that are protected by the laws of the land. Freedom of religion is under attack more than it has been for many years, and many Americans are afraid to even speak of religion in public settings. It is imperative that all Americans know and understand our rights of religion in order for us to be prepared to defend them.
I shared some information over the past few weeks from an article posted by Maurine Proctor. Her article is titled “You Should Know the Answers to these 35 Questions about Religious Freedom.” She takes her 35 questions from a booklet compiled by the International Center for Law and Religion Studies of the Brigham Young University Law School. She quotes their goal as follows: “Our aim is to help everyone understand the scope of religious freedom guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, and to offer suggestions on how to peacefully reconcile the rights of all.”
I shared the answers to questions 1-31 in previous weeks. This week I will complete the questions and answers about religious speech and expression, and you may find these answers a little confusing or alarming. I hope that you appreciate the importance of this freedom and the value of respecting the rights of all people.
Question 32 asks if “professionals (such as bakers, florists, and doctors) [can] refuse to provide services that violate their conscience or religious beliefs.”
It depends. Each state has its own anti-discrimination laws applying to businesses and professionals providing goods or services to the public. Some of these explicitly allow exemptions when providing a service that would violate a provider’s religious beliefs. Others do not. Similarly, some states have conscience laws that affirm the right of doctors or other professionals to refuse to provide services they oppose While it is clear that government enforcement of anti-discrimination laws must not be hostile to religion or to religious believers, this area of the law is still in development. Cases will depend on the law in question and a variety of other circumstances. When considering the constitutionality of such laws, courts may seek to balance the government’s interest in limiting discrimination against individual freedoms of speech and religion.
Question 33 asks if “a religious organization that rents its facilities to the public for events [can] refuse certain types of events.” Again, the answer is “It depends.”
Some states have laws that specifically protect religious organizations’ right to refuse to rent their facilities for events contrary to their beliefs. But as with the issue of businesses or professionals refusing to provide services, the answer is not always clear.
Question 34 asks if “employers [can] discriminate based on religion.” The answer is “Generally, no.”
Most employers may not hire or fire employees on the basis of their religion or their need for religious accommodations in the workplace (such as an exception to a dress code for a religious head covering, or reasonable excuse for religious holiday observances), and must generally accommodate their employees’ religious practices, unless doing so would place an undue burden on the business or other employees.
One major exception is that a religious organization has the right to require its ministers and many other kinds of employees to be members of that religion and to live by the religion’s standards of conduct even outside the workplace.
Question 35 asks if “religious organizations [may] receive federal funding for social programs and services, such as healthcare or education.” The answer is Yes. “Religious organizations may apply for and receive federal funding for such programs on the same basis as non-religious organizations, and often do so.”
This post completes the 35 questions and answers about religious speech and expression. In a time when freedom of religion is under attack from various angles, it is important that we all understand what protections are provided.