The Alliance Defending Freedom is a household name for many who been have followed religious liberty cases in recent years.
A multiple-time winner at the U.S. Supreme Court, the organization takes on cases such as the blatant intolerance by Colorado for the Christian faith of Masterpiece baker Jack Phillips.
It also organizes campaigns each year to affirm the free speech rights of pastors.
And it has a special division, the ADF Church Alliance, which focuses on the threats facing churches in America.
There are seven significant current threats, according to John Harding of ADF, who warns that churches need to be prepared and protected legally.
The major threats, he said, are:
- The potential loss of a provision that treats pastors’ housing as tax-exempt. It is being challenged by the Freedom from Religion Foundation at the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
- The church exemption from requirements to file a Form 990 with the IRS, which can reveal private donor information. If the case is lost, churches would be forced to disclose private information to the the public. And it could open the door for further tax-exemption challenges.
- Some local jurisdictions have denied churches the use of public facilities to which other organizations readily are granted access. A case in Edisto Beach, California, has “big implications for church plants and other small churches who cannot otherwise afford to build.”
- Some local governments claim that zoning codes override the rights of churches, blocking them from using buildings they already own. “In one ADF case, the government went so far as to threaten a church with substantial fines.”
- Then there’s a “parking tax” included in the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that would apply to church and ministry employees. It is still being challenged.
- California also is demanding that churches pay for abortion coverage in health insurance policies for employees. Lawmakers made the change without telling churches, and they are defending the law in court. The legislation is similar to the failed Obamacare mandate.
- Finally, government officials often try to intimidate churches and pastors with letters and formally worded warnings about what pastors are allowed to say regarding political issues. While few of the warnings are founded in law, they serve to chill the speech of church leaders.
Explained Harding: “This short list doesn’t include hundreds of legal matters that often aren’t covered by the media and don’t make it to court. Matters that the ADF Church Alliance team handles for churches also include other hindrances to ministry: employment issues, noise ordinance claims, land use laws, sexual orientation and gender identity laws, and more.”
Harding noted the culture is changing, and “that means churches have a lot more on their plates than they did even five years ago.”