By Brad Dacus
President, Pacific Justice Institute
I hope you were as encouraged as I was last week to hear that the Supreme Court took a stand for the religious freedom of family-owned businesses in the Hobby Lobby case.
At PJI, we noticed another positive aspect of the decision that will benefit churches. (Since the nuance that I’m going to explain next was completely overlooked by the media, I would encourage you to forward this e-mail to your pastor and make sure he is receiving our updates.)
The Supreme Court ruled that Hobby Lobby’s owners were protected by a federal law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). In the process of interpreting that statute, the Supreme Court pointed to a related law, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). This caught our attention because PJI has represented countless churches under RLUIPA and won one of the leading cases in this area at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. We have used RLUIPA successfully on many occasions to help churches overcome opposition from local officials who do not recognize the value of churches and would rather have their properties used for tax-producing businesses like bars or nightclubs.
So here’s the good news: as part of its Hobby Lobby decision, the Supreme Court stated that federal protections of church property rights go even further than the First Amendment. This is exactly what we have been arguing in case after case for more than a dozen years! And it is the opposite of what has been argued by leading opponents of church property rights. We expect this little-noticed holding of the Supreme Court to have some very positive implications for years to come.
If you become aware of any pastors or churches that are encountering hostility from local officials in the process of trying to expand or relocate their facilities, please let them know that PJI provides free and highly effective assistance in this area.
At PJI, it is our mission to clear away legal obstacles so churches and ministries can focus on what they do best – reaching people with the Gospel. It is our privilege to serve pastors and the people of God.
Running the Race,
Brad Dacus, Esq.