• Can churches be forced to comply with the immigration reporting requirements contained in the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 against their will? Yes, concluded a federal district court in California. In 1986, Congress enacted a comprehensive immigration reform law requiring all employers (including churches) to verify the identity and employment eligibility of every employee hired on or after June 1, 1987 (the application of the new law to churches was explained fully in the July-August 1987 issue of Church Law & Tax Report). Employers who fail to comply with the new law are subject to various penalties. A Quaker social services agency, supported by more than 100 other religious organizations, challenged the law in court. It claimed that compliance with the law’s requirements would violate its “sincerely held religious beliefs in the sacredness and equality of human life,” and would require it to participate in an immigration program that it believed would “visit hunger and deprivation” upon illegal immigrants. The court summarily rejected these claims. It observed that in determining whether or not a law violates the first amendment’s guaranty of religious freedom, the courts must consider three factors: “(1) the magnitude of the law’s impact upon the exercise of religious beliefs, (2) the existence of a compelling state interest justifying the burden imposed upon the exercise of religious belief, and (3) the extent to which recognition of an exemption from the law would impede the objectives sought to be advanced by the state.” The court readily agreed that the law had a “substantial impact” on the religious organization’s right to freely exercise its religion. However, it insisted that this right was outweighed by the government’s compelling interest in controlling immigration. Further, the court concluded that granting an exemption to religious organizations would not be feasible since it would “reactivate the employment ‘magnet’ which draws illegal aliens to the United States. [The government] notes that over 100 religious organizations [support the position of the Quaker social services agency in this case], and therefore an exemption could have far reaching effects on immigration policy.” American Friends Service Committee v. Thornburgh, 718 F. Supp. 820 (C.D. Cal. 1989).
© Copyright 1990, 1998 by Church Law & Tax Report. All rights reserved. This publication is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is provided with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. Church Law & Tax Report, PO Box 1098, Matthews, NC 28106. Reference Code: m48 c0390