Getting Started 104: Religious Identity & Religious Liberty

What You'll Learn

This skills course focuses on religious liberty issues that affect your organization. After completing this course, you will be better equipped to protect your organization’s religious freedom through understanding what a religious organization is, the basic religious protections afforded to faith-based nonprofits, how federal, state, and local laws may conflict with your organization’s religious practice, and what steps your organization can take to protect itself.

Lesson 1

What Does It Mean to be a Religious Organization? 

Faith-based nonprofits need to understand how to establish their eligibility for religious exemption and religious liberty protections. Failing to do so can cause the organization to inadvertently forfeit exemptions and protections for which the organization was qualified. Additionally, incorrectly assuming the organization is qualified for a religious exemption or protection could lead to fines, penalties, and even litigation. Organizations can reduce the risk of these negative outcomes by following best practices for establishing religious identity.

Lesson 2

Practice What You Preach

Religious liberty wins at the Supreme Court can have little effect if an organization does not take the essential steps required to claim these protections. The courts—including the court of public opinion—have proven that they are not afraid to analyze whether an organization is “religious enough.” In a culture that has proven its increasing willingness to cancel organizations for their beliefs, organizations that lack an authentic and legally sound religious identity are not just soft targets for cancel culture and accusation, they may inadvertently have waived religious liberty protections to which they are entitled. This Napa Legal webinar discusses the concrete steps an organization can take to secure its religious identity amidst cancel culture.

Lesson 3

Assemblies & Institutions: RLUIPA’s Overlooked Requirement

The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”) was enacted to combat widespread discrimination against individuals and institutions seeking to use land for religious purposes. Unfortunately, discriminatory zoning codes are still a reality today. One such reality involves religious individuals or organizations seeking to use property for transitional homes, women’s shelters, or places of respite. These uses may be religious, but to bring the organization within RLUIPA’s protection, the organization must demonstrate its eligibility. Without a clear characterization as a place of worship, institution sponsored by a place of worship, or institution affiliated with a place of worship, RLUIPA may not clearly protect an institution. This whitepaper will seek to educate individuals and organizations on best practices — in operations, documentation, and beyond — to qualify for RLUIPA protections.

Lesson 4

How Local Laws and Regulations Can Impact Your Organization’s Religious Liberty

Individuals often express their religious beliefs by establishing and working for faith-based non-profits. A faith-based organization should therefore have a foundational understanding of the constitutional protections the First Amendment extends to it, particularly as these protections relate to the organization’s religious activity. This whitepaper provides a brief overview of the scope of these protections and offers some guidance for ways an organization can protect itself from and, if necessary, respond to laws and regulations that may infringe on its religious liberty rights.

Lesson 5

The Ministerial Exception: How Faith-Based Nonprofits Can Safeguard Their Right to Choose Their Own Leaders

In general, state and federal law prohibit discrimination based on religion and immutable characteristics such as race, sex, color, and national origin. But under the ministerial exception, churches, religious schools, and other qualifying religious organizations are exempt from these laws in connection with the hiring and firing of their ministerial employees. This protection applies only to employment decisions involving a distinct class of employees who are considered ministers. While the term “minister” encompasses more than just a church’s ordained clergy, the precise scope of the term is not clearly defined. There are, however, some guidelines that Catholic non-profits can follow to determine which of their employees might qualify as ministers.

Lesson 6

Fulton v. City of Philadelphia: What Nonprofit Leaders Need to Know

At the end of its 2020-2021 Term, on June 17, the Supreme Court issued a much-anticipated judgment in favor of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s foster care placement agency. The judgment in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia was unanimous, with the Court’s majority opinion authored by Chief Justice John Roberts. Two concurring opinions, written by Justices Samuel Alito and Amy Coney Barrett, signaled interest among a majority of the justices to revisit the Court’s precedent so far as it relates to religious objections to generally applicable laws.

Lesson 7

303 Creative: Renewing Our Faith in the Right to Free Speech

On June 30, 2023, the Supreme Court issued an important decision regarding the right of Free Speech — a fundamental right protected under the First Amendment. The Court’s ruling in 303 Creative v. Elenis marks a consequential victory for ardent supporters of First Amendment rights and the rule of law.

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