Additional Resource

Other Examples of Attacks on Religious Conscience and Free Exercise

Other examples of attacks on religious conscience and free exercise:


Example 1:

A Baptist-affiliated organization that places at-risk children in adoption or foster care terminated an employee because her admitted homosexual lifestyle was contrary to the organization’s core values. Accusing the organization of sexual orientation discrimination, she brought a federal lawsuit that the organization is still defending against more than a decade later. Pedreira v. Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children, Inc., 579 F.3d 722 (6th Cir. 2009), cert. denied, 131 S. Ct. 2091.

Comment: Businesses that publicly operate according to religious beliefs should have the freedom to hire based on religious criteria they deem necessary to ensure that the working environment is supportive of those beliefs. This case illustrates that even overtly religious organizations can be sued for sexual orientation discrimination and that the resulting litigation can consume an organization’s resources for many years.

(Utah law already exempts small businesses with fewer than 15 employees from nondiscrimination laws. That threshold exemption should be maintained.)

Example 2:

A New York City restaurant was ordered to pay $1.6 million to a lesbian chef and manager for allegedly discriminating based on sexual orientation and religion because the restaurant held weekly prayer meetings and the owner expressed the view that homosexual conduct is sinful. Salemi v. Gloria’s Tribeca, Inc., 115 A.D.3d 569, 982 N.Y.S.2d 458 (N.Y. Ct. App. 2014).

Comment: The reported decision doesn’t say whether employees were told that the restaurant’s owner held out the business as operating according to traditional Christian beliefs. But it’s probably the most striking illustration of what effect a sexual orientation law can have on such a business.

Example 3:

A Minnesota health club, owned by Evangelical Christians and operated in light of biblical principles, was ordered by the Minnesota Supreme Court in 1985 to stop hiring only employees who shared their religious beliefs in order to comply with state nondiscrimination laws. Blanding v. Sports & Health Club, Inc., 373 N.W.2d 784 (Minn. Ct. App. 1985), aff’d, 389 N.W.2d 205 (Minn. 1986).

Comment: This is a frequently cited case where a business that held itself out as operating on religious lines lost to nondiscrimination rules.

Issue: Employers, such as Boy Scouts of America, that exist to express or inculcate a religious or values-based message should be free to make hiring decisions based on their religious beliefs or values.

Issue: All employers should be free to establish reasonable employment regulations that are consistent with their values, including those relating to dress, grooming and use of private facilities.

Issue: All employees should be free to express their religious commitments in the workplace in reasonable, non-disruptive ways and on equal terms with similar expressions by other employees. Employees should not be terminated or disciplined for expressing their religious convictions about marriage, family and sexuality outside the workplace, any more than employees should be fired for expressing in non-disruptive ways alternative views on those topics outside the workplace.


Example 1:

A private Jewish university in New York City was sued by a lesbian couple for its policy of reserving its married student housing for male-female couples. The state’s highest court ruled that the university’s policy could be challenged as violating the city’s ordinance barring housing discrimination based on sexual orientation. Levin v. Yeshiva Univ., 96 N.Y.2d 484 (2001).

Comment: Churches and other religiously affiliated organizations that own noncommercial housing units should have the freedom to give preferences to those of their own faith. Religious schools should have the freedom to establish values-based regulations for student housing, including regulations separating male and female housing and protecting values of privacy, modesty and sexual morality.

Example 2:

In 1996 the California Supreme Court ruled that a devout Presbyterian widow with traditional Christian morals violated state law when she desired to rent one of her properties only to couples who are married. The court explained that the widow could avoid compromising her religious beliefs by getting out of the rental business altogether. Smith v. Fair Employment & Housing Com., 913 P.2d 909 (Cal. 1996).

Comment: Small landlords and landlords renting units closely associated with their family living arrangements should have the freedom to determine who will occupy such units. Mrs. Smith’s plight is perhaps the best-known case pitting the religious liberty of small landlords against the insensitivity of sweeping nondiscrimination laws. Note that it involves an unmarried heterosexual couple.  

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