Can private clubs and religious organizations legally discriminate?

While it is unlawful to discriminate based on race or national origin in public-sectors, private clubs and religious organizations can legally discriminate because they are protected by Federal civil rights laws. However, many states have enacted laws that go beyond the Federal laws' protections, both in terms of prohibited conduct and private clubs or organization classification. Use this free legal guide to learn more about legal discrimination in private clubs and religious organizations.

Get Legal Help Today

secured lock Secured with SHA-256 Encryption

Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

Full Bio →

Written by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

UPDATED: Dec 18, 2020

Advertiser Disclosure

It’s all about you. We want to help you make the right legal decisions.

We strive to help you make confident insurance and legal decisions. Finding trusted and reliable insurance quotes and legal advice should be easy. This doesn’t influence our content. Our opinions are our own.

Editorial Guidelines: We are a free online resource for anyone interested in learning more about legal topics and insurance. Our goal is to be an objective, third-party resource for everything legal and insurance related. We update our site regularly, and all content is reviewed by experts.

That depends. When dealing with private individuals, the Federal civil rights statutes only reach as far as public accommodations. Thus, while it is unlawful to discriminate on the basis of race or national origin in hotels, restaurants, theaters, public transportation and public parks, the Federal civil rights laws do not make it unlawful for bona fide private clubs and religious organizations to discriminate on whatever basis they choose.

Many states have enacted laws that go well beyond the protections afforded by the Federal laws, both in terms of their scope of prohibited conduct and their application to what might be regarded by some as private clubs or organizations. For example, in March 1998, a divided New Jersey Appeals Court decided that New Jersey’s Civil Rights Law prohibited the Boy Scouts from discriminating against a scoutmaster because of gender preferences, while in a similar case across the country, the California Supreme Court held that California Civil Rights Law did not prohibit the Boy Scouts from denying membership to persons who are gay or do not believe in God.

Some cities, including Chicago, New York and San Francisco, also have local Civil Rights Laws that are far broader than the Federal law. For example, New York City defines private clubs that derive certain levels of income from business as places of public accommodation for purposes of its Civil Rights Laws. San Francisco requires employers who do business with the city to offer their employees health insurance for non-marital “partners”.

Get Legal Help Today

Find the right lawyer for your legal issue.

secured lock Secured with SHA-256 Encryption