January 17, 2023

Freedom to Operate: Three Mistakes Many Camps Make That Impact their Religious Freedom

By
Alliance Defending Freedom
Camps

Christian camps are places where childhood memories are made, adult respite is found, and lifelong spiritual commitments develop.

When believers get together outside of everyday activities, they can grow in relationship with one another. Camps also provide a sacred space where the busyness of life can be exchanged for quiet moments with God.

When Christian camps operate according to biblical beliefs, they can serve as powerful tools of ministry to the body of Christ and beyond. That's why religious freedom is so important to your camp.

Religious freedom means the freedom to minister and serve the people Christ calls you to serve. But that's getting harder to do amidst a culture so opposed to God's Truth and the Gospel. Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is here to help you navigate this challenging legal landscape so that you can get back to what matters most: serving others and spreading the Gospel.

Below are three mistakes that camps make that impact their religious freedom.

1. They open their camps to businesses and other secular organizations

While opening your camp to businesses and secular organizations may help cover costs, these engagements could place your camp’s religious freedom at risk.

Courts are more likely to view these uses as predominately profit-making activity—and not part of the religious ministry of the camp. Camps that operate in this manner may be considered less like religious organizations and more like businesses themselves. If this were to happen, your camp could become subject to public accommodation laws and other regulations, ultimately jeopardizing religious freedom protections.

For example, public accommodation laws are being used by activists to target religious ministries. If your camp were to be viewed as engaging in public accommodations, you could lose discretion about which groups to host, which messages to promote, or how to enforce your beliefs and rules of conduct. This could mean that your camp could be required to host events, groups, and ceremonies that conflict with your sincerely held beliefs or even create facility accommodations in bathrooms, locker rooms, or sleeping arrangements against your good faith objections.

2. They don’t understand their religious hiring preference rights

For every employment position, all Christian camps should have the freedom to hire only people of the same faith. A camp can be selective and choose only to hire "coreligionists," which means individuals who agree with its beliefs and live them out.

This coreligionist principle is found in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In section 701 of the Act, Congress states that preferential treatment based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin is illegal. However, Congress realized how little sense it made to force religious organizations to hire staff members who don't hold the same religious views and beliefs. So, in section 702, Congress exempted religious organizations from the religious nondiscrimination requirement. In short, religious organizations can prefer coreligionists in employment matters.

3. They don’t require their employees to sign a code of conduct

Christian camps should adopt a code of Christian conduct grounded in a statement of faith, which establishes behavioral expectations for employees. And every employee should be required to sign the code of conduct annually.

Your code of conduct should address a variety of behaviors pertinent to your camp's particular context. While the level of detail and specific types of conduct addressed will vary from camp to camp, here are some areas we encourage all camps to address clearly:

  • Wearing unprofessional or inappropriate styles of dress (including dressing in such a way as to willfully reject one's sex assigned at birth (Genesis. 1:27)).
  • Use of drugs/alcohol on camp property
  • Deliberate damage or destruction of any camp property or the property of any camp community member.
  • Engaging in sexual acts and/or relationships outside the confines of biblical marriage between one man and one woman.

The above list is not exhaustive, and we encourage you to consult with an attorney to tailor your code of conduct to your camp’s unique context.

We’re Here to Help

The mistakes mentioned in the blog are preventable. And preventing pitfalls is even easier when you have an ally by your side. That’s where the ADF Ministry Alliance comes in. We’re here to help your camp keep the legal doors open for the Gospel.

But how do we do that?

Through Document Review

Our team can review your camp's governing documents and policies through a religious freedom lens. Send your camp’s governing documents, policies, employment documents, and more to ADF attorneys. We review these documents and discuss recommendations tailored to protect your camp’s religious freedom.

Through Access to Attorneys

Reach out to our attorneys whenever you have legal questions about your camp’s religious liberty. If you aren’t sure if your legal question has religious freedom implications, you are still free to reach out to us.

Through Legal Resources

Stay on top of trending news and laws impacting ministries. Through membership, you will also have access to helpful and understandable resources that describe vital religious liberty legal concepts, summarize important Supreme Court decisions, guide you through creating governing documents and employment policies with religious liberty protections in mind, and so much more. Our membership portal houses numerous resources just a click away after you join ADF Ministry Alliance.

Through Guaranteed Case Review

If your camp is involved in a religious liberty lawsuit, we will review your case in detail to determine how best to help your ministry.  If necessary and appropriate, ADF’s legal team may even litigate your case directly, which would be at no cost to you.

You don’t need to face a changing legal and cultural landscape alone. The ADF Ministry Alliance team wants to come alongside you to help your camp navigate the complex legal terrain ahead. We do this because we care about your ministry. We want to help empower your camp to continue serving God and others for years to come.

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