Skip to main content Accesibility Help

What Business do Businesses Have with the Free Exercise of Religion?

  • Judith Lynn Failer (a1)

Since Burwell v. Hobby Lobby (2014), federal and state religious freedom restoration acts now extend the right to free exercise of religion to businesses. But what does it mean for businesses to have such a right? In this paper, I identify three implications of these new rights: they shift the burden for fulfilling the right to private citizens, and they conflict with businesses’ both commercial and democratic obligations. To illustrate how they become problematic, I draw on the case of In re Wathen (2015) where the owners of a bed and breakfast cited their business's religion as their reason for refusing to host a wedding reception for a same-sex couple, even though state law specifically prohibited commercial businesses from discriminating based on sexual orientation.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Prof. Judith Lynn Failer, Department of Political Science, Indiana University, Bloomington, Woodburn 210, Bloomington, Indiana 47405-7110, USA. E-mail:
Hide All

I gratefully acknowledge the wise advice I received while preparing this paper from Suzanne Dovi, David Orentlicher, Nick Tampio, and the anonymous reviewers. Remaining mistakes are all my own.

Hide All
Bank of the United States v. Deveaux. 1809. 9 US 61.
Boerne v. Flores. 1997. 521 U.S. 507.
Braunfeld v. Brown. 1961. 366 U.S. 599.
Buckley v. Valeo. 1976. 424 US 1.
Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. 2014. 573 U.S.__.
Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. Hialeah. 1993. 508 U.S. 520.
Churchill, Spencer. 2014. “Whose Religion Matters in Corporate RFRA Claims After Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., 134 S. Ct. 2751 (2014).” Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy 38(1):437.
Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. 2010. 558 U.S. 310.
Civil Rights Act. 1964. Title VII. Sec. 201(a).
Cook, Tony, and Wang, Stephanie. 2015. “Indiana House Panel Oks Religious Freedom Bill.” Indianapolis Star, March 16.
Day, Terri R., and Weatherby, Danielle. 2017. “Contemplating Masterpiece Cakeshop.” 74 Washington & Lee Law Review Online 86.
Employment Division v. Smith. 1990. 494 U.S. 872.
First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti. 1978. 435 U.S. 765.
Fox News. 2016. “Illinois Couple Defiant Despite $80 G Fine for Refusing Gay Union and B&B.” April 5.
Goldman v. Weinberger. 1986. 475 U.S. 503.
Gonzales v Raich. 2005. 545 US 1.
Greenawalt, Kent. 2013. “Religious Toleration and Claims of Conscience.” Journal of Contemporary Legal Issues 21:449.
Grosjean v. American Press Company, Inc. 1936. 297 U.S. 233.
Habermas, Jurgen. 1989. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry Into A Category of Bourgeois Society. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Hausknecht, Bruce. 2013. “Religious Freedom in Danger: The Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” (Accessed October 20, 2017).
Heart of Atlanta Motel v. U.S. 1964. 379 U.S. 241.
Hohfeld, Wesley Newcomb. 1917. “Fundamental Legal Conceptions as Applied in Judicial Reasoning.” The Yale Law Journal 26(8).
Honig, Bonnie. 2017. Public Things: Democracy in Disrepair. New York: Fordham University Press.
Illinois Statutes. Chapter 775. Human Rights § 5/5-102(A).
In re Wathen, State of Illinois Human Rights Commission. 2015. Charge No. 2011SP2489 and 2011SP2488, ALS No. 11-0703C, “Recommended Liability Determination.”
Jamison v. Texas. 1943. 318 U.S. 413.
Koppelman, Andrew. 1998. Antidiscrimination Law and Social Equality. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Koppelman, Andrew. 2015. “Gay Rights, Religious Accommodations, and the Purposes of Antidiscrimination Law.” Southern California Law Review 88:619.
Lochner v. New York. 1905. 198 U.S. 45.
Locke, John. 1970. Second Treatise of Government. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Luchenister, Alex J. 2015. “A New Era of Inequality: Hobby Lobby and Religious Exemptions From Anti-Discrimination Law.” Harvard Law & Policy Review 9:63.
Lupu, Ira C. 1989. “Where Rights Begin: The Problem of Burdens on the Free Exercise of Religion.” Harvard Law Review 102(5).
Madison, James. 1785. “Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments.” Quoted in Thomas C. Berg, “The Heritage Guide to the Constitution: Free Exercise of Religion.”!/amendments/1/essays/139/free-exercise-of-religion (Accessed October 20, 2017).
Marsh v. Alabama. 1946. 326 U.S. 501
Martin v. Struthers. 1942. 319 U.S. 141.
Martin v. Struthers. 1943. 319 U.S. 141.
McConnell, Michael W. 1990. “The Origins and Historical Understanding of Free Exercise of Religion.” Harvard Law Review 103(7).
McGowan v. Maryland. 1961. 366 U.S. 420.
Muller v. Oregon. 1908. 208 U.S. 412.
Nejaime, Douglas, and Siegel, Reva B.. 2015. “Conscience Wars: Complicity-Based Conscience Claims in Religion and Politics.” The Yale Law Journal 124:2516.
Pembina Consolidated Silver Mining Company v. Pennsylvania. 1888. 125 U.S. 181.
Pohlman, H.L. 2005. Constitutional Debate in Action, Civil Rights and Liberties. 2nd ed. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Reynolds v. U.S. 1879. 909 U.S. 145.
Sanchez, Ray. 2016 “Why the Onslaught of Religious Freedom Laws?” (Accessed October 20, 2017).
Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company. 1886. 118 US 394.
Sepinwall, Amy J. 2015. “Conscience and Complicity: Assessing Pleas for Religious Exemptions in Hobby Lobby‘s Wake.” The University of Chicago Law Review 1897 82(4), 1897.
Sepper, Elizabeth. 2015. “Gays in the Moralized Marketplace.” Alabama Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Law Review 7:129.
Sherbert v. Verner. 1963. 374 U.S. 398.
Shklar, Judith N. 1998. American Citizenship: The Quest for Inclusion. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Singer, Joseph William. 2017. “Property and Sovereignty Imbricated: Why Religion Is Not an Excuse to Discriminate in Public Accommodations.” Theoretical Inquiries in the Law 18(2).
Smith, Steven D. 2014. “Die and Let Live? The Asymmetry of Accommodation.” Southern California Law Review 88:703.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. Pub. L. No. 103-141, 107 Stat. 1488 (November 16, 1993), codified at 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb through 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb-4.
United States Constitution.
West Coast Hotel v. Parrish. 1937. 300 U.S. 379.
West Virginia v. Barnette. 1943. 319 U.S. 624.
Wilson, Robin Fretwell. 2014. “When Governments Insulate Dissenters From Social Change: What Hobby Lobby and Abortion Conscience Clauses Teach About Specific Exemptions.” University of California, Davis Law Review 48:703.
Winkler, Adam. 2018. We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights. New York: Liveright, Norton.
Wisconsin v. Yoder. 1972. 406 U.S. 205.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Politics and Religion
  • ISSN: 1755-0483
  • EISSN: 1755-0491
  • URL: /core/journals/politics-and-religion
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed