• Can a state close down a church-operated boys ranch that refuses to obtain a state license? Yes, ruled an Oklahoma state appeals court. A Baptist church operated the ranch as a ministry of the church, but it refused to obtain a state license on the ground that obtaining a license to operate a church ministry would violate the constitutional guaranty of religious freedom. A trial court rejected the church’s position, and ordered the ranch closed. A state appeals court agreed with this result. It noted that the state may regulate the activities of religious organizations in order to protect a compelling government interest, if it does so in the “least restrictive” manner reasonably possible. The court concluded that the state has “not only the right but the duty to protect its minor citizens” and that “the state must be particularly concerned with the welfare of the children in child care facilities where young children are completely controlled by and entirely dependent upon operators and employees for all of their needs.” In summary, the state had “a compelling interest in protecting the children in child care facilities such as [the church boys’ ranch],” and this interest “outweighs any burden imposed upon [the church] by the licensing requirements.” Finally, the court agreed with the state that licensing and regulation of child care facilities “are the least restrictive of the alternatives that the state could provide for the protection of children.” State ex rel. Roberts v. McDonald, 787 P.2d 466 (Okla. App. 1989).
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