With increasing frequency, religious congregations and ministries are facing unfamiliar challenges. Recent months have seen a major escalation in the willingness of political and other leaders to use cultural, political, and legal pressure against religious groups and individuals that resist the newest manifestations of the sexual revolution. (Eric Kniffin)
Recently, I had the opportunity to catch up with a college roommate, Eric Kniffin, who is a Religious Liberties attorney who has worked for the U.S. Department of Justice, the Becket Fund, and currently in a Colorado Springs law firm. In speaking with Eric, he pointed out the interesting legal and political times that we’ve lived through in the past ten years. In particular, he mentions a few things in the podcast that I think are noteworthy.
First, he suggests that the Obama years brought about the re-shaping of expectations in regards to Religious Liberties. Second, even though there doesn’t seem to be coherence in the Trump administration politically that there is a clear change in who and how judges are being chosen. Therefore, Eric suggests that we may be in a period of respite, but that the advocates for religious liberty change have shifted their work to local and state courts and legislatures.
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A Time for Clarification:
As you listen to the podcast you will hear Eric discuss the difference between the challenges of independent religious schools and denominationally affiliated schools. In particular, he suggests that for independent religious the ability to apply for exemptions is and will continue to be more difficult in the future. Therefore, his suggestion is to do a “Mission Audit” during this time of respite.
In his report for the Heritage Foundation, Protecting Your Right to Serve: How Religious Ministries Can Meet New Challenges without Changing their Witness, where he lays out the steps for an audit that offers a religious organization the opportunity to clarify who they are:
- Evaluate how well its documents and operations reflect its religious mission. By identifying its core convictions and performing an internal review, a group can see whether these convictions are adequately expressed in its corporate documents, employment-related policies and practices, and in how it engages the public.
- Identify the specific pressures it is likely to face from local, state, and federal laws and regulations, as well as from other sources.
- Make strategic decisions to protect the organization’s mission in light of the context described above.Some conflicts can be avoided. In other cases, religious organizations may seek to improve their ability to qualify for religious exemptions. Finally, each organization must soberly plan for what it will do if and when it faces challenges based on its religious convictions.
Eric Kniffin is an attorney at Lewis, Rocca, Rotherberger, Christie in the Religious Institutions Practice Group. His practice focuses on religious liberty cases in the trial and appellate levels, as well as commercial litigation matters. He has represented clients in high-profile religious liberty cases, including nationwide litigation challenging the Health and Human Services Mandate. Eric has also successfully represented the United States in three cases before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Eric also worked for the United States Department of Justice in the Civil Rights Division. Most recently, Eric served as Legal Counsel for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty in Washington, D.C, where he represented clients in litigation at trial and in federal appellate courts.