Philip R. Meade


The First Baptist Church court should not have required strict scrutiny of either the building code or the zoning ordinance applications. In reaching its decision, the court incorrectly analyzed Supreme Court decisions construing the free exercise clause, and drew mistaken parallels between the two Sumner ordinances and laws that the Supreme Court has identified as burdening religious freedom. The court should have distinguished between generally applicable laws such as Sumner's building code and zoning ordinance that, in regulating the peripheral aspects of religious conduct, incidentally make a religious practice less convenient or more expensive, and laws that effectively penalize the practice of religion. The court should have required the trial court to review the Sumner ordinances under the standards for laws that regulate the time, place, and manner of exercising first amendment freedoms. Using these standards to review the ordinance would have provided a reasonable approach to protecting religious practices from the unnecessary, unintended effects of government regulation, and would have helped insure that the generally applicable regulations were applied in a nondiscriminatory manner.