Partly Acculturated Religious Activity: A Case for Accommodating Religious Nonprofits

38 Pages Posted: 4 May 2016  

Thomas C. Berg

University of St. Thomas, St. Paul/Minneapolis, MN - School of Law

Date Written: 2016

Abstract

Many of today’s most vexing problems concerning the accommodation of religion involve religious organizations that straddle the perceived boundary of the public and private: that is, not the "private" instance of churches and their clergy, but rather nonprofit organizations (religious colleges, adoption agencies, etc.) that employ or serve people outside their faith but also make religious freedom claims to follow their religious norms in the face of generally applicable laws (contraception mandates, anti-discrimination laws, etc.). I refer to these organizations and activities as "partly acculturated": acculturated in that they reach out to the broader society to provide services of general civic value, but unacculturated in that some of their doctrines and practices clash with dominant secular values. To many critics, it is plainly improper to accommodate partly acculturated activity: when an organizations hires or serves people outside its faith, it must follow whatever rules the government sets.

This paper argues that we should make real efforts to protect religious freedom for partly acculturated religious activities. The law should not force all religious organizations and activities into one of the two polar categories, acculturated or unacculturated. Part II presents several reasons why there is a strong interest in protecting the freedom to engage in partly acculturated religious activity. Among other things, I argue, relying on work in sociology of religion, that refusing accommodation to partly acculturated activity risks losing the distinctive vigor that such organizations offer in providing services to society: their countercultural positions tend to create a sense of identity and commitment, while their acculturation means they apply that identity to serve society rather than withdraw from it.

Accommodating partially acculturated activity does present distinctive challenges because of effects on non-adherents. Part III proposes addressing those, and drawing lines concerning accommodation, by relying on concepts of:(1) notice to employees and clients concerning the organization’s religious identity, and (2) alternative sources of receiving the services or opportunities in question.

Keywords: Religious freedom, religious organizations, religious accommodation, free exercise of religion, religious acculturation, religious nonprofits, religious schools, social services

Suggested Citation

Berg, Thomas C., Partly Acculturated Religious Activity: A Case for Accommodating Religious Nonprofits (2016). Notre Dame Law Review, Vol. 91, Forthcoming; U of St. Thomas (Minnesota) Legal Studies Research Paper No. 16-09. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2773325

Thomas Charles Berg (Contact Author)

University of St. Thomas, St. Paul/Minneapolis, MN - School of Law ( email )

1000 La Salle Avenue
Mail # MSL400
Minneapolis, MN 55403-2015
United States

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