Reveal: The Religious Freedom Loophole

Mar 2, 2016

Reveal explores how different religious groups have taken advantage of their special freedoms to make money, skirt rules and hurt children.
Credit Anna Vignet for Reveal

When most people think of the First Amendment, they think of the freedom of speech – but that’s actually the second part of the clause. The first part states that all Americans have the freedom of religion.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …”

So what does that mean, exactly? In America, we have the freedom to believe in whatever or whomever we want. According to the law, no one religion is supposed reign supreme – nor can anyone be prohibited from exercising their beliefs. But that phrase “free exercise” is a broad one. What happens when religious groups take advantage of these special freedoms to make money, skirt rules or hurt children?

This hour of Reveal explores the tricky territory of religious freedom and how different groups have exploited this loophole.

In our first segment, reporter Amy Julia Harris and producer Delaney Hall go to Alabama to follow the trail of a woman who’s been able to open almost a dozen problematic day care centers by claiming she’s a church.

Some background: In most states, all day care facilities are licensed and have to meet basic standards of safety and care for children. But in 16 states, church-run day cares have looser rules. Check out the map to see whether religious day cares in your state have to follow basic rules.