Fighting to Protect Freedom of Conscience
and Freedom for Faith Communities
Religious freedom protects our right to believe—or not—free from government interference. Indeed, religion and belief are stronger without government support.
A U.S. Supreme Court case, though, threatens to disturb the healthy distance between religion and government. On April 19, the Court will hear arguments in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Pauley, and the decision could deeply erode the principle of church state separation, the foundation of religious freedom.
If Trinity Lutheran wins, state and local governments will be required to give taxpayer funds to churches, synagogues, and mosques. Currently, the U.S. Constitution and most state constitutions safeguard religious freedom by ensuring that the government cannot do this exact thing.
That’s why Americans United, along with other religious and civil-rights organizations, submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in this case. Just as we have for seventy years, AU is fighting to protect religious freedom.
Here’s what’s at stake:
Freedom of Conscience
The core of our Constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom is the principle that religion must be freely chosen. Freedom of conscience means that you can decide which religion to follow—if any—without government coercion or interference. It also means the government can’t tax you and then use those funds to pay for religious ministries or the upkeep of any house of worship because we each get to decide for ourselves whether and how our money goes to support religion.
Protecting Faith Communities From Government Discrimination
The government shouldn’t have the right to pick and choose which faith communities are worthy of government support. Discrimination is the inevitable result, and minority faiths and smaller, less popular houses of worship are the most likely to be left out. This is why most state constitutions ensure the government does not fund houses of worship.
Freedom for Faith Communities
Faith communities can and should raise their own money for ministry projects. Houses of worship seeking to use taxpayer dollars in any capacity open themselves up to careful government monitoring: with government money comes government oversight. And rightly so. Moreover, keeping public money out of houses of worship prevents them from competing with each other for government funds and approval, and thereby reduces strife and jealousy between religious communities. It also safeguards religious leaders from pressure to change their teachings to become more appealing to the government officials deciding who will receive government funds.
The best way to protect the independence of faith communities is to preserve existing protections that ensure taxpayer funds are not used to fund houses of worship.
Analysis From AU Attorney Carmen Green:
- Americans United's Summary Of The Case
- Our Amicus Brief To The Supreme Court
- AU Legal Director Richard Katskee Writes On SCOTUSblog: "Religious Freedom, Not Religious Discrimination"