Government Regulation of ChurchesChapter 9
With the ever-increasing amount of legislation imposed by federal, state, and local governments, questions have arisen as to the application of these laws and regulations to religious organizations. After all, it is one thing for a statute to apply to a local dry cleaner or fast food restaurant. But it is quite different to apply the same law to a church, since churches are protected by the First Amendment guaranty of religious freedom as well as similar provisions in state constitutions.
How far, then, can government go in applying these laws to churches and ministries without violating the First Amendment? The willingness of religious organizations to comply with some regulation is not seriously disputed. For example, few protest the application to churches of laws and regulations prohibiting fraud in the sale of securities. Essentially, federal and state laws regulate the offer and sale of securities for the protection of the investing public. In general, an organization that issues securities must register the securities, and the persons who will be selling the securities, with state and federal agencies. In addition, federal and state laws contain a broad prohibition on fraudulent activities in the sale of securities. Churches are exempt from some of these requirements in some states. However, they remain subject to the prohibition of securities fraud in all fifty states, and under federal law.
The government also protects copyright owners against infringement, which has significant relevance and benefit to churches. In short, most churches have acknowledged that religion should not be used as a means of avoiding laws and regulations that are designed to protect the life, health, or safety of members of the public, or that impose fair and reasonable obligations upon those activities of churches that are not intrinsically religious.
But when does the government cross a line? For example, should the government have the authority to invalidate any gift to a church simply because it was contained in a will or deed executed within a prescribed time prior to the donor's death? Should the government have the ability to regulate a church's solicitation of funds? Or, should the government have the authority to apply anti-discrimination requirements to churches?
Many churches oppose these kinds of governmental assertions of authority as unreasonable intrusions into the life of the church. Some of these issues have been addressed in previous chapters. In this chapter, we'll take a look at additional examples of government regulation of church activities, and available exemptions from such laws. As you read the text, attempt to formulate a rule that will define those instances in which government regulation of church activities may be warranted.