• Key point: Reasonable regulation of church-operated schools and children’s homes, in an effort to ensure safety and health, do not violate the constitutional guaranty of religious freedom.
• The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that the first amendment guaranty of religious freedom was not violated by the closing of a church-operated children’s home for failure to comply with state regulations. In 1989, the State of Mississippi enacted a law requiring children’s homes to be licensed by the state. Letters were sent to children’s homes informing them of the law and instructing them to begin compliance with the licensing requirement. A church-operated children’s home received this letter, but the administrator (an ordained minister) did not respond. He later testified that he “threw the letter in the trash because the home and children are none of the state’s business.” The church’s failure to comply with the licensing requirements concerned state officials, especially because of the numerous reports of child abuse by the administrator and his staff that the state had received in the past. The state later asked a court to close the children’s home and forbid the administrator from providing any care of children. The administrator maintained that the state had no jurisdiction over the home since the home had “elected to maintain a common law master-servant relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ [and] therefore the State of Mississippi has no lawful authority to interfere in any way with the relationship or to invade the privacy of the congregation or any individual member.” A trial court summarily rejected the administrator’s defenses, ordered the home closed, and sentenced the administrator to 5 months in jail for contempt. The state supreme court affirmed the trial court’s decision on appeal. It noted that the licensing law was enacted to ensure that the operators of children’s homes maintain minimum standards of health, nutrition, cleanliness, and sanitation. It did not permit the state to regulate religious curriculum of ministry. Under these circumstances, the application of the licensing law to a church-operated home did not violate the constitutional guaranty of religious freedom. The court observed, “nothing in the Act can be deemed an interference with his or the congregation’s freedom to establish their religion or to exercise their religious beliefs.” Fountain v. State ex rel. Mississippi Department of Health, 608 So.2d 705 (Miss. 1992). [PCL13K]
See Also: Safety and Health Regulations
© Copyright 1994, 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: m65 m11 m47 c0194