State Laws Protecting Religious Freedom


The Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment have been made applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. In a series of cases the Supreme Court has ruled that the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment establish the minimum amount of religious freedom that must be afforded to individuals in state or federal court. States may provide more religious freedom under their own constitutions, but not less. Below is a sampling of state court decisions decided at least in part based on their own state constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom.

ALABAMA: The state’s constitutional provision guaranteeing freedom of religion did not bar the court from resolving a dispute between congregational factions over the title to church property, even though spiritual issues arguably prompted the congregation’s dispute, since the case involved civil conflicts of trusteeship and property ownership and required the court to review church records and incorporation documents without delving into spiritual matters. U.S.C.A. Const.Amend. 1; Const. Art. 1, § 3. Murphy v. Green, 794 So.2d 325 (Ala. 2000).

ARIZONA: A residential picketing statute did not facially infringe upon the religious freedom guaranteed by the state and federal constitutions as they were applied to an abortion protestor who was convicted for protesting abortion in a residential neigh-borhood. Even though her protest was motivated by a deeply held religious belief, the statute did not single out religious picketing or religious demonstrations for prohibition. U.S.C.A. Const.Amend. 1; A.R.S. Const. Art. 20, par. 1; A.R.S. § 13-2909. State v. Baldwin,184 Ariz. 267, 908 P.2d 483 (Ariz.App. Div. 1 1995)

CALIFORNIA: In guaranteeing the free exercise of religion “without discrimination or preference,” the plain language of the state constitution ensures that the state neither favor nor discriminate against religion. West’s Ann.Cal. Const. Art. 1, § 4. East Bay Asian Local Development Corp. v. California, 24 Cal.4th 693, 13 P.3d 1122, 102 Cal.Rptr.2d 280 (Cal. 2000).

FLORIDA: Inherent in parents’ authority over their unemancipated children living in their parents’ household is the parents’ right to require their children to attend church with them as part of the children’s religious training, and neither the state nor federal constitutions entitle unemancipated minors to prevent such parent-mandated religious training on grounds that it violates the minors’ religious freedom. U.S.C.A. Const.Amend. 1; West’s F.S.A. Const. Art. 1, § 3. L.M. v. State, 610 So.2d 1314 (Fla.App. 1 Dist. 1992).

ILLINOIS: A state statute permitting certain burials on Sundays and legal holidays did not abridge the union members’ freedom to contract. Nor did it violate the federal and state constitutional prohibitions against impairment of contractual obligations, since the statute’s provisions were narrowly drawn to per-mit free exercise of religious rights guaranteed by the state constitution while allowing labor to restrict its working schedules accordingly. S.H.A. ch. 21, ¶ 101 et seq. Heckmann v. Cemeteries Ass’n of Greater Chicago, 127 Ill.App.3d 451, 468 N.E.2d 1354, 82 Ill.Dec. 574 (Ill.App. 1 Dist. 1984).

MICHIGAN: The Michigan Civil Rights Act’s prohibition on housing discrimination based on marital status did not violate the state constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom, and thus the act was violated when two landlords refused to rent their apartments to unmarried couples, even though their refusal was based on religious grounds. M.C.L.A. Const. Art. 1, § 4; M.C.L.A. § 37.2502(1). McCready v. Hoffius, 459 Mich. 131, 586 N.W.2d 723 (Mich. 1998).

MISSOURI: State and federal constitutions guarantee of religious freedom entitled a taxpayer to delete every reference to God on the state’s tax form before taking the oath or affirmation required by the form. U.S.C.A. Const.Amend. 1; V.A.M.S. Const. Art. 1, §§ 5, 7; V.A.M.S. § 137.155. Oliver v. State Tax Commissioner of Missouri, 37 S.W.3d 243 (Mo. 2001).

MONTANA: The freedom of religion provisions set forth in the state constitution protect the freedom to accept or reject any religious doctrine, including religious doctrines relating to abortion, and the right to express one’s faith in all lawful ways and forums. Const. Art. 2, §§ 5, 7. Armstrong v. State, 296 Mont. 361, 989 P.2d 364 (Mont. 1999).

NEBRASKA: Ex parte communications in which a trial judge during a capital murder case asked the jurors to join hands, bow their heads, and say words to the effect of “God be with us” did not infringe on the defendant’s religious rights under the state or federal constitutions, since the defendant’s rights to freedom of religion and to worship as he pleased did not suffer in any way. U.S.C.A. Const.Amend. 1; Const. Art. 1, § 4. State v. Bjorklund, 258 Neb. 432, 604 N.W.2d 169 (Neb. 2000).

NEW HAMPSHIRE: The state’s constitutional provision guaranteeing freedom of religion prohibited the state from revoking a psychologist’s license for his religious views but did not prohibit revocation for acts that otherwise constituted unprofessional conduct, regardless of their religious character. Thus, the court upheld the state’s revocation of the psychologist’s license on the grounds that he had provided incompetent therapy to a patient, even though part of the therapy involved reading the Bible. Const. Pt. 1, Art. 5. Appeal of Trotzer, 143 N.H. 64, 719 A.2d 584 (N.H. 1998).

NEW YORK: The state constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom entitled a state correctional facility inmate to participate in all Jewish religious observances open and available to any other inmate, even though the inmate was not recognized as Jewish by the Jewish chaplain at the facility. McKinney’s Const. Art. 1, § 3; McKinney’s Correction Law § 610. Thomas v. Lord, 174 Misc.2d 461, 664 N.Y.S.2d 973, 1997 N.Y. Slip Op. 97576 (N.Y.Sup., 1997).

OHIO: A court order requiring that a noncustodial parent pay 40 percent of his child’s tuition at a private Catholic school did not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment or the religious freedom provision of the state constitution. U.S.C.A. Const.Amend. 1; Const. Art. 1, § 7. Smith v. Null, ― Ohio App.3d ―, ― N.E.2d ―, 2001 WL 243419 Ohio App. 4 Dist. 2001).

TEXAS: A state court could not hear a lawsuit alleging that a church minister and his wife negligently or intentionally misapplied the church’s doctrine in attempting to drive out demons from plaintiff’s minor daughter, since the lawsuit would involve a searching inquiry into the church’s beliefs and the validity of those beliefs, an inquiry that would infringe up the defendants’ religious freedom. In re Pleasant Glade Assembly of God, 991 S.W.2d 85 (Tex.App.-Fort Worth 1998).

VERMONT: The state’s constitution expresses two related, but different, concepts about the nature of religious liberty: no governmental power may interfere with or control an individual’s free exercise of religious worship, and no person can be compelled to attend or support religious worship against that person’s conscience. Const. C. 1, Art. 3. Chittenden Town School Dist. v. Department of Educ., 169 Vt. 310, 738 A.2d 539 (Vt. 1999).

WASHINGTON: Requiring a church to apply for a conditional use permit in a rural estate zoning district, while requiring a county to reduce or waive the application fee following a showing of the church’s inability to pay, was not an impermissible burden on the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the state and federal constitutions. Open Door Baptist Church v. Clark County, 140 Wash.2d 143, 995 P.2d 33 (Wash. 2000). U.S.C.A. Const.Amend. 1; West’s RCWA Const. Art. 1, § 11.