Blog of Rights

12 Days of Religious Liberty - Day 7

By Alicia Gay, ACLU at 12:55pm

During what is often referred to as the holiday season, a variety of cultures and religions honor an equally diverse number of both religious and secular traditions. Christmas, Hanukkah, and Bodhi Day are just some of the religious holidays that are celebrated this time of year. And for many who don’t subscribe to a particular faith tradition, the season is still seen as an occasion to gather with friends and family.

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No matter why you are celebrating this holiday season, we can all celebrate living in a country where religious freedom is a fundamental value. The First Amendment's Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses not only protect the right to believe (or not to believe), but also the right to express and to manifest religious beliefs.

In honor of our country’s proud history of promoting religious freedom, and the ACLU’s commitment to protecting the rights of all religious believers to practice their faith, this holiday season we are highlighting 12 cases we have brought on behalf of a variety of faiths defending religious liberty and the right to religious expression.

Seventh Day: ACLU to Court: Church Has the Right to Help Poor People
A key component of religious practice and expression is the ability of religious institutions to be able to carry out their mission publicly and openly, unimpeded by things like zoning laws.

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed on behalf of the First Baptist Church of Ferndale, the ACLU of Michigan urged the Oakland County Circuit Court not to interfere with the church's mission of serving the poor.  The First Baptist Church made arrangements for a charity for homeless persons known as the South Oakland Shelter to occupy an empty wing of the church where it would provide daytime social services including job counseling and access to telephones, the Internet, and personal hygiene facilities.  A small group of Ferndale residents who lived near the church asked the City of Ferndale to block the move. The ACLU argued in its brief that denying the church permission to help poor people, on its own property, would violate the Religious Land Use Act of 2000.

The Court upheld the decision by the City of Ferndale Zoning Board opening the way for South Oakland Shelter to bring their administrative offices into First Baptist Church of Ferndale. Read more…

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For more instances of the ACLU rigorously defending the rights of all religious believers to practice their faiths, please visit our website.

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