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Why We Fight for Religious Liberty

Written by Noel Sterett on December 10, 2019 Category: Land Use and Zoning, Religious Institutions, RLUIPA

I just read attorney Luke Goodrich’s excellent new book entitled Free to Believe:  The Battle Over Religious Liberty in America. Because we have the privilege at Dalton & Tomich of being on the front lines of that battle, I read the book with great interest. While the book covers a lot of ground, as it not only discusses the most serious threats to religious liberty but also what can be done about them, I was most interested in the book’s focus on why religious liberty matters. Some may take the value of religious liberty for granted. Others may see no value in religious liberty at all. In many of our cases, our clients’ opponents try to cast our religious liberty claims as nothing more than a demand for preferential treatment. But as attorney Goodrich points out in the excerpt below, there are three reasons we should all (religious and nonreligious alike) continue to fight for the first freedom enshrined in our Constitution:

“1. Religious freedom benefits society. It promotes good works, protects the right of dissent, and reduces social tension.

2. Religious freedom protects our other rights. It establishes limits on what the government can do, which is the foundation for all other rights.

3. Religious freedom is a fundamental human right. It is rooted in human nature and, like other human rights, is worth protecting for its own sake.”

At Dalton & Tomich, we’ve seen the first two reasons play out time and again in our religious land use cases. When we have secured our clients’ rights to provide shelter for the homeless, feed the hungry, care for pregnant women, or otherwise serve their communities, our clients’ religious freedom ultimately benefitted the broader community. So often our client’s goal is not to fight for religious freedom simply for freedom sake.  Rather our clients are fighting for the sake of those who stand to benefit from their religious ministries and activities. In our homeless shelter cases, for example, our clients often press their rights because they know that their shelter may be the difference between life and death for those in need during the frigid winter nights.

And as to second reason Mr. Goodrich identified, we have also seen how many of our court victories have not only helped establish significant religious liberty precedents but have also served to curb municipal zoning powers and protect other rights as well. Our cases serve as an opportunity for the judiciary to provide critical oversight over how municipalities are using or abusing their zoning powers.

If you’d like to learn more about why religious liberty matters and how to understand the religious liberty issues of the day, I’d encourage you read Free to Believe.

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Dalton & Tomich, PLC is the national leader in successfully helping churches, other religious institutions and their insurers defend their rights in land use and zoning matters under RLUIPA, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. We have helped clients win cases against municipalities and other local government bodies from coast to coast, with experience serving both as general counsel and special litigation counsel.