Church of Scientology Flag Service Organization v. City of Clearwater (1993)

In a lengthy decision discussing and analyzing a broad swath of cases under the Religion Clauses, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that a charitable solicitation ordinance of the City of Clearwater violated both the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses.

After analyzing the history and background of the enactment of the ordinance as well as its structure, the Court found “explicit evidence that the city commission conducted its legislative process from beginning to end with the intention of singling out Scientology for burdensome regulation. The record shows a widespread political movement, apparently driven by an upsurge of sectarian fervor, intent on driving Scientology from Clearwater,” triggering strict scrutiny review.*

The Court also found that specific sections of the ordinance with respect to record keeping, requirement of disclosure to church members and ultimately the public, and other matters of internal church governance, could not meet strict scrutiny and violated both Religion Clauses.

The opinion of the unanimous Court is long and far reaching. It applies a careful and searching analysis of the First Amendment’s Religion Clauses and provides strict limitations on the power of government to interfere with church fundraising and donations. It also permits courts to undertake a close investigation of the reasons a statute was enacted to ensure that it was not motivated by religious animus or prejudice.

*Strict scrutiny review requires the government to demonstrate that its actions—whether restricting speech, free exercise of religion, permitting discrimination, etc.—are necessary to further a compelling government interest or purpose, and that it is using the most narrowly tailored, or least restrictive, means to achieve an interest that is compelling.