Advancing Religious Liberty
5/18/10 at 10:14 AM 0 Comments

Religious Freedom on a Collision Course with Non-Discrimination Laws

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Author: ADF Legal Counsel Tim Chandler

Recently, the Roman Catholic Church has come under fire after two of its schools, one in Massachusetts and one in Colorado, declined to enroll students who have same-sex parents. Not surprisingly, these decisions created a firestorm of public criticism and outrage, raising questions about whether churches should have the right to make these types of enrollment decisions.

A similar situation arose in California not too long ago. A Lutheran high school in California was the target of a lawsuit by two former students who were expelled for violating the school's Christian Conduct policy. The policy prohibited students from engaging in immoral or scandalous conduct, including homosexual behavior, which these two students engaged in. The lawsuit alleged that the school violated California law by discriminating against the students based on their sexual orientation.

Most of the time, non-discrimination laws serve worthy goals that help strengthen our religious freedom. But they can be misused and overextended, especially when religious organizations are involved. When that happens, these laws are put on a collision course with religious freedom. And far too often, it's religious freedom that is sacrificed for the sake of political correctness.

These situations are perfect examples. One of the most basic and fundamental principles of the First Amendment is that churches should remain autonomous and not have the government interfering with their internal affairs. But churches lose that freedom when the government imposes non-discrimination laws that intrude into religious matters, like operating a private school.

After all, the mission of a church-run school is not just to provide a good education, but to inculcate students with a particular set of values and beliefs. So it's essential that we give churches wide latitude in deciding how to implement their educational system, including its enrollment criteria, to best carry out that mission.

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, in defending the Colorado school's enrollment policy, put it this way: "The main purpose of Catholic schools is religious; in other words, to form students in Catholic faith, Catholic morality and Catholic social values. ... Our schools are meant to be 'partners in faith' with parents. If parents don't respect the beliefs of the Church, or live in a manner that openly rejects those beliefs, then partnering with those parents becomes very difficult, if not impossible."

By God's grace, the Lutheran school in California ultimately prevailed in its lawsuit. ADF and the Christian Legal Society filed briefs in that case supporting the school on behalf of over 830 private religious schools throughout California who would have all been affected by a bad ruling in the case. And we will continue to fight to ensure that churches keep the right to set their policies based on religious conviction, not government mandate.

This post originally appeared here.

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