“If you value the work that religious enterprises do, if you value the free exercise of religion, then you’re going to at least be sensitive to regulatory mandates that impose new and often pretty burdensome costs on them,” our friend and writer Richard Garnett told NPR yesterday .  The host, Jennifer Ludden, pressed him on the application of this to soup kitchens and similar works the government regulates. Rick replied:

I guess I don’t think of this as being a competition. I mean, churches provide clothing to the naked and food to the hungry because they feel called to do so. I think it’s kind of a mistake when people act as though the government is doing churches a favor by letting them engage in this social welfare ministry. I mean, churches were doing this long before governments ever got the idea to do it.

And so long as these social welfare services, these good works, are being done in a way that’s safe, it seems to me that it’s not really the government’s place to say look, we want to make sure that you’re doing this in the same way that government agencies do. Again, it’s not a competition.


It’s a long and very helpful interview taking up the practical legal matters of religious liberty, like the question of the limits of regulation when similar non-religious enterprises are regulated, and including other issues the idea of a “philosophical objection” available to people who have principled objections to some government requirement but no specific religious commitment. The other guest, who appears first, is John Witte, the director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University.

Rick’s most recent essays for us are the 2012 Supreme Court Roundup (October 2012) and an analysis of the Hosanna-Tabor case and the “ministerial exception,”  Things Not Caesar’s (March 2012). John Witte hasn’t written for us in some time, but his last article was Publick Religion: Adams v. Jefferson .

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