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What We Impact

The Becket Fund has a remarkable record of victories defending religious liberty.  Our lawyers are experts in constitutional law and federal and state religious freedom protections, and we continue to protect religious liberty against the most critical threats facing us today. We specialize in the laws and issues listed below.

Sources of Law

Federal RFRA. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act prohibits the federal government from substantially burdening the free exercise of religion without a compelling interest.

RLUIPA. The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act strengthens religious liberty in the context of prisons and land use. The Becket Fund has been a leader in litigating under RLUIPA to stop cities from using zoning to treat houses of worship like second-class citizens. We also work to ensure that that prisons do not unreasonably restrict inmates’ access to worship, religious study, and religiously mandated diets.

Establishment Clause. The First Amendment mandates that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” The Becket Fund defends this principle by working to ensure that religious groups are free from state interference in articulating their religious messages and structuring their religious governance. At the same time, we defend religious expression from those who would abuse the Establishment Clause to strip religion from the public square.

Free Exercise Clause. The First Amendment protects the right of individuals and religious communities to live out their faith free from government restriction and discrimination. The Becket Fund works to ensure that this fundamental freedom is protected .

Church Autonomy Doctrine. The First Amendment protects not just individuals, but also religious communities. The Church Autonomy Doctrine requires the civil courts to stay out of internal religious decisions and disputes. The Becket Fund defends the rights of churches and other religious associations to run their affairs without government interference.

Blaine Amendments. Blaine Amendments are provisions found in the constitutions of 37 states prohibiting government aid to “sectarian” institutions–even when that aid is perfectly permissible under the federal constitution. The Blaine Amendments were modeled after a failed attempt to pass a similar anti-aid amendment at the national level. They are the result of  nativist, anti-Catholic bigotry prevalent during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Becket Fund is raising awareness of the Blaine Amendments’ tarnished past and is a leader in challenging these laws.

State RFRAs. Many states have their own version of the federal RFRA, a law protecting religious exercise from government burdens.  The Becket Fund works to ensure that these laws are enforced against state and local governments who try to restrict religious freedom.

State Constitutions. State constitutions also protect religious liberty, and sometimes they do so to a greater extent than the federal constitution. The Becket Fund works to ensure that these protections for religious liberty are respected and enforced.

 

Practice Areas

Schools. The Becket Fund defends private religious expression by public school students and works to ensure that private religious schools can educate students without government interference or discrimination.

Prisons. Prisoners are at the mercy of the state in all aspects of their daily lives, including how and when (or even if) they worship, study, or otherwise practice their faith. The Becket Fund works to ensure that prisoners are not unreasonably denied the ability to engage in basic religious activities such as group worship, religious study, and religiously mandated diets.

Property Rights. Religious exercise is virtually impossible without a physical house of worship, and any house of worship needs to use land. But local governments often abuse zoning and eminent domain power, making it hard for religious assemblies to use their property. The Becket Fund has developed a national reputation as the leading force litigating such cases under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and the First Amendment.

Religious Associations. The Becket Fund protects the freedom of religious groups to formulate and articulate their religious messages—and to structure their religious polities—without government interference.

Employment. The Becket Fund protects the First Amendment right of religious employers to make employment decisions based on religion, and of religious employees to be free from religious discrimination and burdens on religious exercise in government workplaces.

Healthcare and Conscience Rights. Religious health care workers face growing challenges from those who contend that religious belief has no place in the health care field. The Becket Fund protects the conscientious objection rights of  health care professionals and religious organizations.

Religious Displays. Because religious expression is natural to human beings, it is natural to human culture. The Becket Fund defends religious expression from those who would abuse the Establishment Clause in an effort to eliminate religion from the public square. When the government is sued for sponsoring a religiously diverse holiday display, we defend it. And every December, we award the Ebenezer Award–our lowest honor–to those responsible for the most ridiculous affront to the Christmas and Hanukkah holidays.

Free Speech. A core part of religious liberty is the ability to speak about one’s faith.  The Becket Fund believes that religious speech should not be stifled or silenced in the public square, and it defends against attempts to do so.

Religious Attire. Freedom of religion is more than just freedom to worship. It is the freedom to practice one’s religion, which for many people includes wearing religious clothing and symbols. The Becket Fund defends the right of religious individuals in the United States and around the world to express their religion through their attire.

Blasphemy. The Becket Fund opposes blasphemy laws around the world because we believe the state does not have the power to determine religious truth. Such laws stifle religious expression and allow powerful majorities to oppress weaker minorities. For the same reasons, we oppose religious defamation laws, which give legal cover to oppressive blasphemy statutes.