Religious Freedom Landscape: A Look at How the 2020 Election Could Impact Churches and Ministries Across America

December 17, 2020
Jenna Mohrmann

Since election day last month, ADF attorneys hosted a webinar discussing what may be on the horizon for religious liberty over the next four years. They shared some of the legal issues religious organizations are facing today, and they provided ways churches and ministries can be better prepared.

Watch the recording of the webinar or continue reading to learn more.

Federal Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) Issues

One of the biggest threats to religious liberty is the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) in non-discrimination laws. This directly impacts many Americans’ rights to live according to their conscience –protected by the First Amendment. Many states and cities have already added SOGI to their non-discrimination laws. And there have been attempts to pass federal SOGI laws as well.

To understand the current state of SOGI issues at the federal level, it is important to understand the Supreme Court’s June 2020 decision in Bostock vs. Clayton County.

In Bostock, the Court ruled that an employer may not fire or decline to hire an employee solely because of the employee’s sexual orientation or transgender status. However, there are legal provisions that may protect the freedom of religious employers to maintain conduct standards reflecting their beliefs about marriage, sexual morality, and the distinction between the sexes. These include Title VII’s existing religious employer protections, the First Amendment’s “ministerial exception,” the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and other First Amendment doctrines. Whether these provisions protect religious employers from claims of sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination is a hotly contested issue that will likely be resolved in future court decisions.

Courts are already grappling with whether other existing federal bans on sex discrimination reach SOGI. These include Title IX and the Fair Housing Act. The incoming Biden Administration has promised to interpret these laws to impose radical gender ideology in various contexts. It plans tore-issue Obama-era guidance declaring that Title IX forces federally funded schools to allow males who identify as female to participate in women’s sports.

The prospect of the deceptively named “Equality Act” becoming law depends in part on the outcome of the Senate runoff elections in Georgia. If passed, the Equality Act would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to many existing federal non-discrimination laws. This would not only affect employment law, but also areas such as athletics, housing, public and private schools, businesses, and more.

Importantly, the Equality Act does not include any religious exemptions. This could directly impact churches and ministries by preventing them from being able to live out biblical beliefs about marriage, sexual morality, and the distinction between the sexes. This could also result in situations such as churches having to open sex-specific facilities to members of the opposite sex, or ministries being forced to pay for health coverage that includes procedures that go against their deeply held convictions such as “sex reassignment” surgeries. The Equality Act would also deprive religious individuals and organizations of the protections of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Availing Your Church or Ministry of the Greatest Religious Liberty Protections Possible

As we get ready to enter 2021, these issues impacting our religious liberties are not going away. It is important for your church or ministry to be as prepared as possible.

To bolster religious freedom protections, churches and ministries need to have properly prepared governing documents (such as bylaws, constitution, facility use policy, employment policies, and others).

Governing documents are important. These documents not only help guide your ministry but also can be used as evidence in the courtroom. It is critical to have properly prepared documents before your organization encounters a legal situation.

Through a legal membership program, ADF attorneys are available to help churches and ministries with governing documents. They provide guidance that is tailored to your needs and work with you to make changes to help minimize your religious freedom legal risks.

Learn more about membership for your church or ministry by visiting the links below.

ADF CHURCH ALLIANCE

ADF MINISTRY ALLIANCE

What is ADF Church
Alliance Membership?

Learn more about membership, and find out how you can help prepare and protect your church.

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