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  • Print publication year: 2016
  • Online publication date: September 2016

7 - Religious Non-Profits


Religious non-profits include a wide range of entities from soup kitchens to universities. This wide array of non-profits can raise a variety of different issues. In the sexual freedom context, there are four major areas where potential conflict arises. First are religiously affiliated healthcare entities, such as hospitals, which were addressed in Chapter 6. Second are religious charities, which have raised questions about tax-exempt status. Third are issues relating to conscience exemptions from mandatory contraception laws for religious non-profits that are not healthcare providers. Fourth are religious universities and adoption agencies, which raise some of the same questions as those that arise for religious charities more generally.

This chapter first addresses potential concerns over tax-exempt status if a religious non-profit discriminates based on sexual orientation (especially same-sex marriage status). These concerns can arise for any type of religious non-profit and thus are relevant to religious charities, religiously affiliated adoption agencies, and religiously affiliated universities. Next, the chapter focuses on religious charities and the question of conscience-based exemptions to mandatory contraceptive coverage laws, especially the HHS Mandate under the Affordable Care Act. Finally, this chapter addresses the variety of issues that arise when religious adoption agencies and universities experience conflicts between their religious tenets and sexual freedom concerns.


Many religious entities qualify for federal tax exemptions under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code as non-profit charitable entities. Any organization exempt from federal taxes under Section 501(c)(3) is generally referred to as a Section 501(c)(3) organization. I use that term here.

Section 501(c)(3) organizations receive significant financial benefits both because the organization itself is tax exempt and because donations to the organization are tax deductible for those making the donations. A primary reason for providing these tax benefits is that Section 501(c)(3) charitable organizations are non-profit and provide substantial benefits to society. When a Section 501(c)(3) organization discriminates based on race or other protected characteristics, it can lose this status because the discrimination goes against societal interests. This is an important issue and is discussed after a brief overview of the requirements an organization must meet to receive a tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3).