Churches have the authority to determine how their facilities are used.
After all, these facilities are private property.
Let’s consider a church’s kitchen, or suppose it has a gymnasium. While churches may want to consider opening these areas of the facility to some outside groups as a way to serve the community and share the Gospel, churches by nature are not public service providers in the eyes of the law; therefore, they do not need to accept every request for facility use. However, it’s vitally important for a church to create a facility use policy so that the community knows what activities are and are not permitted on church property and can better understand the church’s faith.
If you’re not sure where to begin, ADF has you covered. By the end of this article, you’ll have a better understanding of how to create your church facility use policy. Here are five guidelines to get you started:
While church services are open to the public, a church’s facilities are still private property and are used primarily for religious practice, like bible studies or youth group activities. As such, the use of a church building is protected by the First Amendment, and churches have the right to operate their facilities consistent with their faith.
Churches can strengthen their religious liberty protections by adopting a facility use policy that outlines the religious nature of the building and prohibits uses that conflict with the church’s beliefs. This policy is evidence of the church’s beliefs and practices, which details why certain groups, practices, or activities are never permitted on church property.
Everyone who wishes to use a church’s facilities should be required to read the statement of faith and certify that – to the best of their knowledge – they will not use the facilities in any way that violates the church’s religious beliefs. Requiring this certification makes it clear that the facility is not an ordinary commercial facility that can be rented for any purpose, but is instead a physical manifestation of the church’s faith and is being made available as a clear ministerial effort. Taking this action will help eliminate any potential conflict with outside groups who may use the facility in a way that contradicts the church’s beliefs.
The use of church facilities can extend well beyond Bible study or worship. However, your church should prohibit uses that conflict with its beliefs. This means, for example, that while your church may want to offer the building as a polling place, you do not have to celebrate a same-sex ceremony on church property. Continuing to allow for community uses furthers a church’s place as a vital and necessary part of the community. Opening the facility for some community use does not require all community uses!
Churches should be careful when considering whether to enforce a rental fee for use of its facilities and, if so, how much to charge. A church that charges market value rates might look less like a ministry and more like a business. It’s important that a church avoids being a business – or even looking like a business – in how it charges or operates. Instead, limit facility use fees to those that cover the costs of ministering to the community by making the facility available to the community. That way, even your fee structure remains clearly ministerial rather than commercial. One example could be adding a damage deposit in the rental agreement which encourages groups to take proper care of the meeting space and church equipment.
It’s important to remember that creating a church facility use policy not only helps protect your church, but also allows your church to have more control over how facilities God has entrusted you with are used. Now that you have some guidelines to follow, you can begin drafting or revising your church facility use policy.
Here at ADF’s Church Alliance, all members have access to sample documents and document review services from attorneys who specialize in religious freedom legal issues. You don’t want to miss out on these beneficial resources. Click here to learn more about becoming a member.
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