Thomas D White

Religious Freedom vs. Government Regulation

Many readers of this column experience the tremendous religious freedom that we have in America. In addition to worshiping where and how we like, many also enjoy exemptions from civic duties such as mandatory school attendance after 8th grade, jury service, worker’s compensation and other government requirements. Although we all do have to pay taxes!

In my experiences as an attorney and a judge, however, sometimes the religious freedoms that we appreciate run straight into government regulations.

Many feel that they should be able to take their exemption from civic duties into areas of the workplace beyond what the law clearly defines. This sets the stage for conflicts.

Conflicts between the citizen and government arise in the interpretation and application of the law.  For example, confusion and conflicts in the law arise when a business is being run as a charity or a businessperson is from a certain religious group.  One side uses the Constitution as a protective shield from a new law while the other uses it as empowerment for the law.

Most situations boil down to the business owner focusing on the religious nature of the business or its ownership versus the government focusing on the nature of the business activity. Nowhere is this conflict more prevalent than in interpreting and applying the new healthcare laws.

Good arguments exist for both sides: for freedom from regulation (especially in the care of our bodies) versus government protection from potentially harmful business practices.

If you are considering starting a business venture or engaging in a potentially prohibited practice, remember that old saying: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Consult an attorney who can research the law for you and tell you the risks that you are running before the government inspector shows up at your door.

Thomas D. White, Esq.

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