Religious exemption laws permit people, churches, non-profit organizations, and sometimes corporations to seek exemptions from state laws that burden their religious beliefs. There is a coordinated strategy to mount legislation and litigation across the country to undermine nondiscrimination protections, comprehensive health care, and the regulations administering social and public services by inserting exemptions into the laws based on religious or moral beliefs. These attacks on the law include the so-called First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), state religious exemption laws in adoption and foster care, religious exemptions in healthcare including for reproductive care, denial of government services including marriages, denial of service in public businesses, the denial of employee benefits, and cases like the Hobby Lobby U.S. Supreme Court decision.
The resources on this page provide an overview of state religious exemption laws and analyze how religious exemptions threaten the health, wellbeing, and safety of many people in the United States, including LGBTQ people.
August 2023 - The fourth report in this series pinpoints the ways that opponents of LGBTQ equality are eroding existing protections and creating new avenues to allow discrimination.
State religious exemption laws permit people, churches, non-profit organizations, and sometimes corporations to seek exemptions from state laws that burden their religious beliefs. These laws have recently been used as a defense when businesses discriminate against or refuse service to LGBTQ customers and same-sex couples.
October 2020 - This series of issue briefs analyze what’s at stake in the Fulton case. Ultimately, a broad ruling in favor of Fulton could leave millions of people without access to needed publicly funded services – and discrimination could become a regular occurrence when seeking needed social services or assistance.
August 2020 - This report examines the potential outcomes of the Fulton v. City of Philadelphia case, which could create a license to discriminate throughout the child welfare system.
December 2019 - This brief analyzes a new proposed rule allowing discrimination in HHS-funded programs and services.
October 2018 - MAP's latest brief shows how the expansion of the ability of colleges and universities to claim a religious exemption to federal nondiscrimination laws can have a profoundly negative impact on LGBTQ students. These risks include threats of expulsion, increased disciplinary action simply for being LGBT, being denied participation in extracurricular activities, or forced into conversion therapy or counseling.
September 2018 - This policy brief, authored by MAP and the Family Equality Council, in partnership with the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) and the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), offers a snapshot of the impact of discriminatory foster and adoption laws on the thousands of children waiting to be adopted in the seven states where these laws currently exist, the high stakes of passing similar laws in other states, and offers recommendations for supporting children in care.
July 2018 - Some of the nation’s largest companies including Yelp and Levi Strauss & Co. joined with more than 1,200 small businesses, the cities of New York and Oakland, and a coalition of more than 190 organizations to unveil a new nationwide Open to All campaign. This initiative is focused on encouraging businesses large and small to join together, to declare that they are “open to all.” To learn more, visit www.OpenToAll.com
July 2018 - When states allow child services decisions to be based on religious beliefs and not the best interests of kids, it’s kids who pay the price. Learn more in this powerful new ad from MAP that FOX News Channel refused to air. For more on the campaign, visit KidsPayThePrice.org.
July 2018 – An amendment to a federal appropriations bill seeks to create a license to discriminate for child welfare providers, prioritizes the interests of providers over the welfare of children, reduces the likelihood that the most vulnerable children will find stability, and cuts more than $1.04 billion to state child welfare budgets. The more than 395,000 children in the child welfare system across the country will pay the price.
June 2018 – In June, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in the case Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. This guide offers background, frequently asked questions and topline messages to facilitate conversations about the case and similar cases about service refusals.
June 2018 – Nursing Home is the latest in a series of ads illustrating the devastating harms many LGBT Americans face because have they no legal protection from discrimination. The new video features an older gay man and his family on the first day he moves into an assisted living facility. When the director of the facility learns the man is gay, he refuses to allow him to move in. No matter their age, and no matter who they love, no one should be turned away from a business or service provider simply because of who they are.
June 2018 – The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Masterpiece case affirmed that states can protect LGBT people from discrimination. Now it’s time for our nation’s laws to catch up to our nation’s values and protect all Americans from discrimination. Join the campaign to call on businesses to declare that they oppose discrimination and that they are Open to All. Visit www.OpenToAll.com to learn more.
June 2018 – Authored by MAP and the Family Equality Council Putting Children at Risk: How Efforts to Undermine Marriage Equality Harm Children highlights how recent efforts to undermine marriage equality and protections for LGBT families pose a profound threat to the children in these families.
March 2018 - MAP and the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) released a new report, Religious Refusals in Health Care: A Prescription for Disaster, examining the coordinated efforts at the federal and state level to allow medical providers to legally discriminate and deny needed care. These policies could encourage doctors, hospitals, paramedics, and other medical providers to pick and choose which patients they will treat, and who receives medically-necessary treatment.
March 2018 - To mark the 50th anniversary of the Piggie Park decision, the Open to All campaign, MAP, and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights released an ad, “Will We Go Back?,” that looks at how the Masterpiececase before the Supreme Court threatens this historic Civil Rights Ruling ruling.
March 2018 - Learn more about the Piggie Park decision and how creating a constitutional license to discriminate in Masterpiece could undermine that historic ruling. “50 Years Ago vs. Today: Piggie Park & The High Stakes of the Masterpiece Cakeshop Case”
March 2018 - "Open to All" is the latest in a series of ads produced by MAP as part of the Open to All public education campaign. The video features Christian small business owners—Howard and Pat—speaking about how nobody should be turned away from a business simply because of who they are.
Updated March 2018 - To explain why the First Amendment Defense Act is so devastating and should not be re-introduced, this brief provides an analysis of the Senate version of FADA introduced in March 2018 and what it could mean for 10 million lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, along with millions of others. The brief underscores how vigilant we must be to ensure that a license to discriminate is not written into our laws.
February 2018 - Inspired by a real legal case, Funeral Home, the latest in a series of ads produced by MAP as part of the Open to All campaign, depicts a grieving widow who has just lost her spouse, and she and her family are turned away from a funeral home and refused burial services for her wife. The ad is meant to show how a loss in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case would open the door to much wider ranging forms of discrimination—including what the grieving widow in the ad faced.
February 2018 -Released in February 2018, a new public education ad, Funeral Home, produced by MAP, depicts a devastating scenario in which a grieving widow and her family are turned away from a funeral home and refused burial services for her wife. This policy brief outlines how the "Funeral Home" ad depicts the high stakes of the Masterpiece Cakeshop case.
January 2018 - This infographic, produced as part of the Tipping the Scales: The Coordinated Attack on LGBT People, Women, Parents, Children, and Health Care report, outlines the mounting legislation and litigation across the country orchestrated to undermine nondiscrimination protections, comprehensive health care, and the regulations administering social and public services by inserting exemptions into the laws based on religious or moral beliefs.
January 2018 - This spotlight report provides a comprehensive overview of the patchwork of federal, state, and local protections against discrimination in public spaces, and how this puts LGBT people at risk.
December 2017 - Religious exemptions laws jeopardize the security and safety of LGBT older adults, who rely on many religiously affiliated organizations for services like congregate meals, skilled nursing, and health care.
November 2017 - This video ad illustrates how Masterpiece could lead to a wider array of people—including LGBT people and families of color—facing discrimination, while helping other viewers imagine how they would feel if they faced similar discrimination. The ad was produced by MAP as part of the Open to All campaign. Learn more at www.OpentoAll.com.
November 2017 - This video ad depicts ways in which a decision in favor of the bakery in this case could be used by those who seek to discriminate against LGBT people and others. The ad was produced by MAP as part of the Open to All campaign. Learn more at www.OpentoAll.com.
November 2017 - This issue brief provides an analysis of the legal questions in the case, and the broad legal implications the case will have on people color, women, minority faiths, people with disabilities and others.
November 2017 - MAP Executive Director Ineke Mushovic discusses the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, and how a loss at the Supreme Court would not only open the door to much wider ranging forms of discrimination, but also to a wider array of people who could face such discrimination. This video was produced by MAP as part of the Open to All campaign. Learn more at www.OpentoAll.com.
November 2017 - This infographic was designed as part of the Open to All campaign and shows how a loss in Masterpiece would open the door to much wider ranging forms of discrimination and a wider array of people facing discrimination. It could lead to the erosion of federal and state nondiscrimination protections across the country. Learn more at www.OpentoAll.com
October 2017 - This report examines the alarming and widespread push to pass a variety of religious exemptions laws that would give businesses, government agencies and individuals a right to discriminate on religious or moral grounds. Legislation, executive orders, court cases, and agency guidance all push religious exemptions far beyond what the U.S. Constitution guarantees is the right to exercise religion freely.
September 2017 - This report details how religious exemptions for child welfare providers hurt children and vulnerable families. Agencies that provide services to children and parents should focus on providing loving, stable homes for children and helping families in need. Instead, these laws encourage and enable adoption agencies and their workers to reject qualified parents who don’t share the agency’s or worker’s religious beliefs.
April 2017 - Texas House Bill 3859 would allow child-placement agencies to to impose their beliefs on and discriminate against children and families while providing taxpayer-funded services. Agencies would be allowed to make placement decisions based on their religious beliefs, hurting the more than 28,000 children in the care of the state, including nearly 7,000 children awaiting adoption.
March 2017 - Alabama House Bill 24 and Senate Bill 145 would allow child-placement agencies to make placement decisions based on their own religious beliefs, hurting the more than 4,745 children in the care of the state of Alabama, including more than 1,020 children who are awaiting adoption. HB24/SB145 would allow agencies to impose their beliefs on and discriminate against children and families while providing taxpayer-funded services.
March 2017 - Several states have proposed legislation to allow businesses to discriminate against customers who don’t conform to the specific religious beliefs that marriage should be restricted to a man and a woman, and that sex should be restricted to such marriages. Learn how to have effective conversations and broaden people's understanding of these laws and how they encourage discrimination against same-sex couples, unmarried couples and individuals, single parents, and others.
THIS REPORT HAS BEEN UPDATED
March 2017 - - Read about religious exemption legislation that would allow child placement and adoption agencies to discriminate against loving families while providing government services paid for with taxpayer money. These laws enable adoption agencies and their workers to reject parents who don’t share the agency’s or worker’s religious beliefs, legally prioritizing those beliefs over the best interests of children.
March 2017 - Some states have introduced legislation to create broad religious exemptions allowing discrimination in taxpayer-funded adoption and foster care services. Such laws would allow adoption agencies and child services workers to make decisions for children in their care based on their religious beliefs, rather than the best interests of the child. Learn how to talk about these harmful laws which deprive children of loving homes.
March 2017 - Senate Bill 149 allows child-placement agencies to make placement and child treatment decisions based on their own religious beliefs, as opposed to following standards that advance the best interests of children. SB 149 would allow child-placement agencies to impose their beliefs on others and to discriminate against children and families, all while providing services paid for with taxpayer money.
May 2016 - Read about approaches for effective conversations about harmful religious exemptions that threaten not only laws that protect LGBT people from discrimination, but also access to health care (including women's reproductive health), public safety, and more.
September 2015 - LGBT Policy Spotlight: State and Federal Religious Exemptions and the LGBT Community examines how state and federal religious exemption laws are being used to harm a broad range of people, interfere with law enforcement, and undermine the rule of law.