First Amendment protects the free-exercise rights of owners of businesses.

OWNERS OF CLOSELY HELD BUSINESSES DO NOT GIVE UP THEIR RIGHTS TO CONDUCT THEIR BUSINESSES IN ACCORDANCE WITH THEIR RELIGIOUS BELIEFS AND CONSCIENCE BY ENGAGING IN COMMERCE!

In a recent 2014 attack on liberties protected by the U.S. Constitutional the New York State Division of Human Rights fined Cynthia and Robert Gifford’s Liberty Ridge Farm, a business offering event hosting at their home and farm open to the public for limited purposes.   The Gifford’s owing to their religious belief that marriage is union between a man and a woman with religious implications and not simply a civil partnership declined to host the marriage ceremony for a lesbian couple, Melisa Erwin and Jennifer McCarthy. Apparently the couple anticipated the religious opposition to hosting a ceremony offensive to the Gifford’s based upon their religious beliefs–the telephone inquiry was reported to be recorded.  A complaint was filed with the New York State Division of Human Rights, which resulted in a $13,000 fine and the denial of the Gifford’s religious liberties.

The action by the New York State Division of Human Rights violates the U.S. Constitution and infringes the foundational human right of religious freedom.  The First Amendment protects the free-exercise rights of businesses like that of Cynthia and Robert Gifford’s Liberty Ridge Farm in upstate New York protecting the religious liberty of the humans who own and control the businesses.  The “exercise of religion” involves “not only belief and profession but the performance of (or abstention from) physical acts” that are “engaged in for religious reasons.” Employment Div., Dept. of Human Resources of Ore. v. Smith, 494 U.S., at 877, 110 S. Ct. 1595, 108 L. Ed. 2d 876 (1990). Business practices compelled or limited by the tenets of a religious doctrine fall comfortably within the understanding of the “exercise of religion” that this Court set out in Smith, 494 U.S. 872, 877, 110 S. Ct. 1595, 108 L. Ed. 2d 876. Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., 134 S. Ct. 2751, 2770 (2014).

The Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, which has been made applicable to the States by incorporation into the Fourteenth Amendment, see Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 303 (1940), provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . .” U. S. Const., Amdt. 1 (emphasis added). The free exercise of religion means, first and foremost, the right to believe and profess whatever religious doctrine one desires. Thus, the First Amendment obviously excludes all “governmental regulation of religious beliefs as such.” Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398, 402 (1963).  The government may not compel affirmation of religious belief, see Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488 (1961), punish the expression of religious doctrines it believes to be false, United States v. Ballard, 322 U.S. 78, 86-88 (1944), impose special disabilities on the basis of religious views or religious status, see McDaniel v. Paty, 435 U.S. 618 (1978); Fowler v. Rhode Island, 345 U.S. 67, 69 (1953); cf. Larson v. Valente, 456 U.S. 228, 245 (1982), or lend its power to one or the other side in controversies over religious authority or dogma, see Presbyterian Church in U. S. v. Mary Elizabeth Blue Hull Memorial Presbyterian Church, 393 U.S. 440, 445-452 (1969); Kedroff v. St. Nicholas Cathedral, 344 U.S. 94, 95-119 (1952); Serbian Eastern Orthodox Diocese v. Milivojevich, 426 U.S. 696, 708-725 (1976).

As described succinctly by Justice Frankfurter in Minersville School Dist. Bd. of Ed. v. Gobitis, 310 U.S. 586, 594-595 (1940):.”Conscientious scruples have not, in the course of the long struggle for religious toleration, relieved the individual from obedience to a general law not aimed at the promotion or restriction of religious beliefs. The mere possession of religious convictions which contradict the relevant concerns of a political society does not relieve the citizen from the discharge of political responsibilities (footnote omitted).” We first had occasion to assert that principle in Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145 (1879), where we rejected the claim that criminal laws against polygamy could not be constitutionally applied to those whose religion commanded the practice. “Laws,” we said, “are made for the government of actions, and while they cannot interfere with mere religious belief and opinions, they may with practices. . . . Can a man excuse his practices to the contrary because of his religious belief? To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself.” Id., at 166-167.

Subsequent decisions have consistently held that the right of free exercise does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a “valid and neutral law of general applicability on the ground that the law proscribes (or prescribes) conduct that his religion prescribes (or proscribes).” United States v. Lee, 455 U.S. 252, 263, n. 3 (1982) (Stevens, J., concurring in judgment); see Minersville School Dist. Bd. of Ed. v. Gobitis, 310 U.S. at 595 (collecting cases).

You need experienced counsel.  You should contact a lawyer with the law firm of Thomas H. Roberts & Associates, P.C. today.   Call 804-783-2000

Thomas H. Roberts, Esq.
Thomas H. Roberts & Associates, P.C.
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Richmond, Virginia 23219
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