Where Are “Religious Liberty” Advocates After Police Raid of Ferguson Church?

The Interfaith Alliance, a church-state separation and religious liberty advocate, today sent a letter to the St. Louis County Police Department Chief John Belmar, raising concerns that the police action at Greater St. Mark Family Church might have violated the First Amendment. In a statement yesterday, the police department said its officers visited a building adjacent to the church over claims the church lacked an occupancy permit for people to sleep there. In the letter, the organization’s president, the Rev. Welton Gaddy, wrote:

I find profoundly disturbing and constitutionally unsettling the reports coming out of St. Louis County, Missouri, that police officers have ‘raided’ a local church that opened its doors to aid protestors and provide a place of refuge for fatigued supporters of justice. Religious institutions hold a special status in our nation protected by the First Amendment. No religious body is above the law, but, without question, any government agency that enters a house of worship unwelcomed must be able to demonstrate a greater than usual reason for intrusion.

In looking carefully at what happened in Ferguson, what is ethical must be considered every bit as important as what is legal. The police action in question here was allegedly justified as dealing with a zoning violation or some other minor infraction by the church – a rationale for intrusion into a house of worship that is simply absurd. There is reasonable suspicion that the true intention of the law officers’ intrusion was to intimidate a religious community, which is deeply troubling regardless of the community’s participation in these protests. The greatest American religious leaders– from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel – have taught us that social protest is a profound form of religious practice. To harass religious communities that engage in such protest violates the fundamental promise of religious freedom.

From the religious right, there is often outcry over alleged government overreach in churches, particularly the enforcement of Internal Revenue Service prohibitions on candidate endorsements by clergy whose institutions enjoy the benefits of tax exempt status. This concern with the police action, however, is a remarkable contrast, demonstrating the radically different concerns over government interference in religion on the right and the left.

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email

  • Villabolo

    I don’t watch TV so I don’t know if it already has but where is the Media in situations like this?

  • cranefly

    “…the church lacked an occupancy permit for people to sleep there…”

    Is that a thing? Americans need a f****** permit to sleep in a building with its owners’ permission?

  • Bob

    Any Church that has applied for and received the voluntary IRS 501(c)3 status deserves all the IRS harassment they begged for. May they bow down to their IRS masters and lick the hand of their IRS slave masters They sold out God and placed the government at the head of their church. I pray the IRS puts a IRS agent in every congregation and tightens their evil grip until the churches reject the IRS slave status and place God at the head of their Churches and not the Beast.

    All churches are tax exempt. They don’t need to beg the IRS. Without 501(c)3 slave status they can be as politically active as churches were in 1776 when the openly supported the revolution. The First Amendment insures tax status exempt today. No application is required. Refusing to have two masters is required.

    Churches should be preaching political activism and promoting candidates that support liberty. These 501(c)3 Churches today have rejected God as their master and God will not protect them.

  • Bob

    The major media is owned by huge corporations that have an agenda. Promoting people that refuse to be mistreated by the government is not a part of their agenda. Control and having obedient slaves is very much a part of that agenda.

  • Sharon ODonnell
  • Frank6548

    Sounds like the police were doing their jobs again in Ferguson.

  • Aravis Tarkheena

    Actually, reporters have tried to report on what’s going on. Two of them were hassled and then arrested by police.

  • Michael McCoy

    Congregations are not tax exempt unless they have a 501(c)3 status. There are some who refuse to get such a status so that they may do the things that you mention, but they have to pay taxes just like any other incorporated institution. The first amendment only prevents the US government from establishing an official Church of the United States. It does not give free rein to congregations to do whatever they want with impunity.

  • Heath Mullikin