05 Jun 2018

Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Religious Freedom

Raul Rivera

On Monday, June 4, 2018, the Supreme Court reversed Colorado’s ruling that a Christian baker was required under penalty of law to bake a cake for a same-sex marriage celebration. The Court went as far as to point out that the State of Colorado did the very thing they accused and convicted the baker of doing: discriminating.

It was a landslide 7-2 decision, making it a huge victory for religious freedom all across the country, specifically for Christians and churches that own businesses.

It is the second ruling in four years from the Supreme Court that provides favorable precedence for business owners and churches that want to run their for-profit enterprises according to their sincerely held religious beliefs.

The first was the Supreme Court’s decision in 2014 involving Hobby Lobby. The Supreme Court ruled that the state cannot require for-profit businesses owned by religious people/organizations to pay for abortifacient medication, because to do so would place an unconstitutional burden on religiously motivated practice while in the pursuit of profit.

These two rulings dispel the concept adopted by many states that for-profit ventures must check their religious convictions at the door or face consequences.

First, a brief recap of the Masterpiece Cakeshop case

If you will recall, Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, had refused to create a custom wedding cake for a gay couple because of his sincerely held religious beliefs regarding same-sex marriage. He did, however, offer to sell them other baked goods (e.g., birthday cakes).

As a result, the couple filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission claiming discrimination pursuant to the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act.

At the onset of the case, an Administrative Law Judge ruled in favor of the couple, and in doing so rejected Jack Phillip’s First Amendment claims that:

“ . . . requiring him to create a cake for a same-sex wedding would violate his right to free speech by compelling him to exercise his artistic talents to express a message with which he disagreed and would violate his right to the free exercise of religion.”

Both the Colorado Civil Rights Commission and the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the couple prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of Masterpiece Cakeshop.

A hopeful future for church-owned businesses

For more than 10-years now, we have been teaching pastors and ministry leaders about a biblically-based, for-profit corporate structure that increases revenues while allowing the church to participate in the marketplace.

In recent years, however, many pastors and ministry leaders have expressed concerns about their churches and ministries venturing into the for-profit realm.

Perhaps the most common concern was that they would be forced to run and operate like secular organizations.

The Supreme Court’s ruling in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, however, sets a strong precedent that allow churches and ministries that have a for-profit arm to run and operate them in alignment with their religious beliefs and doctrines.

It is important to note, however, that in order to protect and help ensure the religious freedoms of your for-profit arm, there are certain steps churches can take.

3 steps to help ensure the religious freedoms of for-profit arms

Step 1 - Include religious language in the foundational documents

Within the articles of incorporation and bylaws of a for-profit arm, it is imperative that one include language clearly articulating that the for-profit arm must adhere to the strictly held religious beliefs and doctrines of the church.

Below is some example language that one can include within the bylaws of the for-profit arm:

“This corporation is prohibited from engaging in activities which violate the majority of shareholder’s beliefs. This corporation is also prohibited from condoning, promoting, or allowing any of its assets to be used for activities that violate the majority of shareholder’s beliefs.”

We have a StartRIGHT Program for churches that want to set up a for-profit arm.

Please call us at 877-494-4655 for more information or click on the link below.

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Step 2 - Adopt and implement a “Right to Refuse” policy

A Kentucky Court of Appeals* recently ruled in favor of a Christian t-shirt company that was sued for refusing to print a t-shirt design for a local gay pride festival event.

I wrote about this case in a previous blog (you can click here to read it).

One of the determining factors that influenced the court of appeals’ decision was the fact that the t-shirt company had a “Right to Refuse” policy displayed on its website.

The “Right to Refuse” policy reads as follows:

“Hands On Originals both employs and conducts business with people of all genders, races, religions, sexual orientations, and national origins. However, due to the promotional nature of our products, it is the prerogative of Hands On Originals to refuse any order that would endorse positions that conflict with the convictions of the ownership.”

In light of Monday’s Supreme Court ruling in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, churches with for-profit arms should include a similar policy on their websites, in a location that is easy for the general public to find. It is also ideal to include a similar message on a “Terms of Service” page.

Step 3 - Stay consistent in all business practices

As important as it is to include strategic language in your for-profit’s articles of incorporation and bylaws, and to implement a “Right to Refuse” policy, it is just as important that you remain consistent in all of your business practices.

Let me explain.

In the Kentucky case involving a Christian t-shirt company mentioned above, the court of appeals noted that this was not the first time that the t-shirt company had declined to print a certain message for potential customers.

The court of appeals stated,

“In this vein, the record provides examples of subject matter HOO has refused to promote because its ownership has deemed it morally objectionable, such as adult entertainment products and establishments. The record also provides examples of images HOO has refused to promote, such as [a foul word] and depictions of Jesus dressed as a pirate or selling fried chicken.”

What makes this significant is that the t-shirt company was not hiding behind a religious curtain by selectively limiting what it would print.

Rather, it was consistently running its business in accordance with the owner’s religious beliefs.

Therefore, I cannot stress enough that whatever type of for-profit arm you have, you must make sure that it is consistently operating in accordance with your church’s sincerely held religious beliefs and doctrines.

“For such a time as this”

In light of the recent Supreme Court ruling, with a landslide decision (7-2) in favor of religious freedom, the opportunity to take your church to the next level has never been more ripe.

I regularly speak with pastors and ministry leaders who have dreams to expand their ministries outside of the four-walls of their churches. However, the questionable and hostile legislative environment towards churches over the past few years has kept them at bay.

My friends, hear me when I say that now is the time for you to confidently step into the new season that God has for your church and to take your church to the next level.

We would love to walk with you in that journey. If you have previously considered starting a for-profit arm but have been hesitant to do so until now, I want to encourage you to give us a call at 877-494-4655.

Share with us the dreams and vision for your church, and we will help you to see how they can become a reality. Just click the link below.

Make Your Dreams Become Reality Today!

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References:

  • Lexington Fayette Urban Cty. Human Rights Comm'n v. Hands on Originals, Inc., No. 2015-CA-000745-MR, 2017 Ky. App. Unpub. LEXIS 371 (Ct. App. May 12, 2017)
  • Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colo. Civil Rights Comm'n, No. 16-111, 2018 U.S. LEXIS 3386 (June 4, 2018)

Please feel free to comment. We always appreciate good dialogue. However, we do moderate each comment to ensure that it is on topic and not derogatory to other participants. We ask that you keep your comments brief and pertinent to the topic so that others may benefit.

Blessings,
Raul Rivera

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