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Substantial Burden versus Compelling Interest – Religious Freedom For Businesses

There has been a lot of argument lately about small business owners and their right to refuse service based off of religion. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act has made it easier for companies to do so – for example, in 2016, the law protected a funeral home which fired a trans employee because of the religious beliefs of its owner.

Substantial Burden versus Compelling Interest - Religious Freedom For Businesses

There are two dueling principles here. The first is that the government should not impose a “substantial burden” on somebody’s ability to conduct business in accordance with their beliefs. The second is that an individual’s religious freedom should not impinge on the wider needs of the community, otherwise known as a “compelling governmental interest.” States have passed Religious Freedom Restoration Acts to strengthen the former as opposed to the latter, but many businesses disagree.

Compelling governmental interest includes such things as not discriminating against a protected class (Which may vary by state) and not doing things that are outright illegal. The more essential your business is, the more likely they are to rule that you cannot use religion as an excuse to discriminate. Landlords, for example, are covered by the Equal Housing Act, and may not use their beliefs to turn tenants away. If your business provides luxuries or if you have a lot of competition, you are more likely to be able to use religious freedom as a defense. The current legal landscape is moving to favor religious freedom over “compelling interest,” but this might change.

All business owners should consider how to balance their own religious beliefs, and those of their employees, with running a good business and complying with anti-discrimination laws. The business climate should also be considered, as an unpopular decision can cost a lot in terms of custom and reputation. If you are in a situation where you need information and help understanding how new religious freedom laws affect your business, contact ProAdvocate Group Today.

Sources:

https://www.legalzoom.com/articles/know-your-rights-what-does-freedom-of-religion-cover

https://www.politico.com/story/2017/10/06/sessions-calls-for-broad-religious-freedom-protections-243536