Freedom to Operate: Three Mistakes Many Camps Make That Impact their Religious Freedom


Alliance Defending Freedom

Christian camps are places where childhood memories are made, adult respite is found, and lifelong spiritual commitments develop.

When believers get together outside of everyday activities, they can grow in relationship with one another. Camps also provide a sacred space where the busyness of life can be exchanged for quiet moments with God.

When Christian camps operate according to biblical beliefs, they can serve as powerful tools of ministry to the body of Christ and beyond. That's why religious freedom is so important to your camp.

Religious freedom means the freedom to minister and serve the people Christ calls you to serve. But that's getting harder to do amidst a culture so opposed to God's Truth and the Gospel. Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is here to help you navigate this challenging legal landscape so that you can get back to what matters most: serving others and spreading the Gospel.

Below are three mistakes that camps make that impact their religious freedom.

1. They open their camps to businesses and other secular organizations

While opening your camp to businesses and secular organizations may help cover costs, these engagements could place your camp’s religious freedom at risk.

Courts are more likely to view these uses as predominately profit-making activity—and not part of the religious ministry of the camp. Camps that operate in this manner may be considered less like religious organizations and more like businesses themselves. If this were to happen, your camp could become subject to public accommodation laws and other regulations, ultimately jeopardizing religious freedom protections.

For example, public accommodation laws are being used by activists to target religious ministries. If your camp were to be viewed as engaging in public accommodations, you could lose discretion about which groups to host, which messages to promote, or how to enforce your beliefs and rules of conduct. This could mean that your camp could be required to host events, groups, and ceremonies that conflict with your sincerely held beliefs or even create facility accommodations in bathrooms, locker rooms, or sleeping arrangements against your good faith objections.

2. They don't understand their religious hiring preference rights

For every employment position, all Christian camps should have the freedom to hire only people of the same faith. A camp can be selective and choose only to hire "coreligionists," which means individuals who agree with its beliefs and live them out.

This coreligionist principle is found in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In section 701 of the Act, Congress states that preferential treatment based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin is illegal. However, Congress realized how little sense it made to force religious organizations to hire staff members who don't hold the same religious views and beliefs. So, in section 702, Congress exempted religious organizations from the religious nondiscrimination requirement. In short, religious organizations can prefer coreligionists in employment matters.

3. They don't require their employees to sign a code of conduct

Christian camps should adopt a code of Christian conduct grounded in a statement of faith, which establishes behavioral expectations for employees. And every employee should be required to sign the code of conduct annually.

Your code of conduct should address a variety of behaviors pertinent to your camp's particular context. While the level of detail and specific types of conduct addressed will vary from camp to camp, here are some areas we encourage all camps to address clearly:

  • Wearing unprofessional or inappropriate styles of dress (including dressing in such a way as to willfully reject one's sex assigned at birth (Genesis. 1:27)).
  • Use of drugs/alcohol on camp property
  • Deliberate damage or destruction of any camp property or the property of any camp community member.
  • Engaging in sexual acts and/or relationships outside the confines of biblical marriage between one man and one woman.

The above list is not exhaustive, and we encourage you to consult with an attorney to tailor your code of conduct to your camp's unique context.

We're Here to Help

The mistakes mentioned in the blog are preventable. And preventing pitfalls is even easier when you have an ally by your side. That's where the ADF Church & Ministry Alliance comes in. We exist to provide legal counsel and resources to ensure that churches and ministries are free to operate, teach, and serve, consistent with God's call.

Click here to learn more about how membership would help your camp.

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