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Religious Liberty


Religious liberty is a gift from God and extends to all people, no matter where they live. As such, the right to religious liberty is not dependent on international or national laws, though many such legal guarantees exist. Maybe the best known of these is the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights Article 18, which states:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Despite international and national guarantees of religious liberty, millions of people experience religious persecution each year, and millions more experience routine religious discrimination and systematic marginalization. NARLA works on behalf of individuals suffering persecution, and we work to change the norms of entire nations. Towards this end, NARLA and our allies, have had some significant success. NARLA will not rest until every child of God, no matter where he or she lives, experiences the reality of religious liberty.

Religious Liberty is Our First Freedom

Religious liberty is our first freedom. It must be guarded vigilantly against economic expediency, misguided calls to sacrifice liberty for security, and the aggressive attempts of activists to impose their agendas at the expense of our most sacred right. NARLA is dedicated to advancing the cause of religious liberty, not as a second class right, but front and centre as our first freedom.

Religious liberty is called our “first freedom” and for good reason:

At the nascence of human history, God gave Adam and Eve the right to choose whether to follow Him. God thereby established a precedent for the human race that remains as alive today as it was all those years ago in the Garden of Eden.

· Religious liberty is also the first liberty expressed in the United States Bill of Rights: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

· But there is a third reason that this is humanity’s “first freedom.” There is no more sacred a space in the human experience than our search for the ultimate meaning of our existence. Repressing religious liberty is at its heart an attempt to extinguish this core of the human soul.

Limits on Religious Liberty

Religious liberty exists within a context of the rights of all those in society. Because religious liberty is our first right, it must take precedence except in exceptional circumstances:

· Religious liberty is never a license to physically harm others, forcibly deprive others of their property, deprive others of their right to speak, travel or assemble, or to interfere with the attempts of others to freely practice their faith or not practice a faith.

· There are many spheres in which religious practice may inconvenience others. In these lesser cases, religious liberty rights must prevail if the religious practice cannot be expressed in any manner other than one that causes inconvenience, and unless the inconvenience is serious and continuing.

· In some cases, religious views and practices cause offence to others. Offence, the desire for conformity, speculative harms and minor inconvenience are never legitimate predicates for inhibiting religious views, beliefs or practices.

We Support Meaningful Constitutional Protection

The First Amendment must be interpreted by our courts and legislatures to give practical protection to people of faith. In 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court heard a case involving a Seventh-day Adventist woman. In this critical case, the Court found that before the state could inhibit religious liberty, the state must show it has a "compelling interest." This decision was effectively overturned in 1990. The U.S. Supreme Court in Employment Division v. Smith reinterpreted the First Amendment in a manner that permits the state to impose laws on believers, even when by so doing they inhibit religious practices. In coming to its decision, Justice Scalia writing for the majority specifically cited Sunday laws as an example of the type of laws that the Court views as constitutional.

NARLA and other religious liberty advocates fought back by supporting the Religious Freedom Restoration Act which reinstates the “compelling interest” standard. The Act was passed by the U.S. Congress in 1997. NARLA also supports state versions of this act which have passed in a number of states. We continue to support efforts in the remaining states that today lack a Religious Freedom Restoration Act. We also continue to battle in the nation’s courts in an effort to protect our First Amendment freedom.

We Oppose Sunday Closing Laws

In all but one state of America, there is law that requires citizens to cease from some form of work on Sunday. While it is wholly appropriate to provide legal protection to ensure every American has the right to celebrate the weekly Sabbath of their choice, it is entirely inappropriate to force one doctrinal position on all. Such laws must therefore be challenged at every level.

We Oppose Governmental Limits on Speech

While speech may be offensive and even hateful, it must not be outlawed. Having to endure offensive speech on occasion is a small price to pay for freedom of expression. Private individuals, however, have every right to vigorously express their offence and make their views known. This includes the right to request that media outlets stop broadcasting offensive messages, the right to boycott the businesses which financially support the broadcasting of offensive speech, and the right to expect that media outlets which use public airwaves provide alternate views to expressions that are offensive to a significant portion of society. There are exceptions to this principle, the most relevant being when an individual makes a threat of violence or incites others to imminent violence. In these rare cases, the speaker may be held liable.


Religious liberty is our first freedom. It must be guarded vigilantly against economic expediency, misguided calls to sacrifice liberty for security, and the aggressive attempts of activists to impose their agendas at the expense of our most sacred right. NARLA is dedicated to advancing the cause of religious liberty, not as a second class right, but front and centre as our first freedom.


“We only have two problems in Washington; elements on the left who want the state to control the church, and elements on the right who want the church to control the state."
- James Standish, 2004

The First Amendment prohibits making laws respecting an establishment of religion. The meaning of this clause remains hotly debated in American society. While these debates are important, many of the issues under discussion currently are framed in overly bombastic rhetoric that distracts from more substantive religious liberty questions. What is more important, for example, the passionate debate over precisely how the Ten Commandments may be displayed in public buildings, or the stark reality that people across the United States are regularly being fired from their jobs in retaliation for trying to keep the Ten Commandments? To ask the question is to answer it. Or at least it should be. And yet today many organizations that claim to support religious liberty would rather expend money and effort fighting over symbolism than working on substance. NARLA focuses primarily on Establishment Clause questions when the issue in play impacts the substantive rights of individuals and institutions.

In particular, NARLA focuses on the following Establishment Clause issues:

· Imposition of Religious Doctrine by the State

· State Impartiality in Matters of Religion

· State Payment for Services Rendered by Religious Institutions

· Religion in the Public Schools

· Religious Symbols & Speech in the Public Square