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Can You Legally Start Your Own Religion in the United States?

December 8th, 2023

The process to start your own religion in the United States is actually quite straightforward if you set your mind to it.
The process to start your own religion in the United States is actually quite straightforward if you set your mind to it.

What is the legal definition of a religion in the United States? When you strip away the ideology and tax benefits, religion is simply an organization of people who agree to come together and follow certain rules. With this simplistic view, an obvious question often arises among so-called non-believers: Why can’t create my own religion and experience the same freedoms, tax benefits, and other privileges associated with the Catholic Church, Judaism, and other faith-based organizations in the United States? Well, the process of creating your own religion in the United States is actually quite straightforward. 

Register Your Organization as a Non-profit

To start your own religion in the United States in an effort to pursue certain tax benefits, you will need to carefully follow IRS guidelines. To qualify for tax-exempt status, you’ll first need to create a separate legal entity for the religion. In most cases, this will be some variation of a non-profit organization. As the name implies, these organizations cannot profit in the same way as a normal business – and you will need to keep this in mind as you move forward. 

Start Your Own Religion with a Clearly Defined Set of Beliefs

Although IRS requirements for legal religious status are quite vague, your religion itself needs to be much more clear in its mission, goals, and practices. Consider writing down the various philosophies regarding your religion, accepted practices, requirements for all followers, and so on. Most major religions have some kind of central governing text, such as the Bible, Koran, and the Torah. 

Apply for IRC 501(c)(3) Status

To some extent, the IRS automatically grants tax-exempt status to churches. However, they may only do this with recognized churches associated with major religions. This means that it may be a good idea to apply for this status under IRC 501(c)(3), especially if you want to invent a completely new religion. You can do this by filing IRS Form 1023-EZ. 

Organize Your Religion

To start your own religion, you’ll need to create an organizational structure for your new faith. This might include some form of governing body for the religion, complete with priests, preachers, or any other type of religious officials you deem appropriate. 

Consider creating some kind of school or accreditation program to formally assess and approve new priests into the faith. You might also want to create a designated place of worship. This could be a church, a clearing in a forest, or anywhere else that makes sense. Without this organizational structure, it may be difficult to earn approval from local and federal government organizations. 

Things to Avoid When Planning to Start Your Own Religion

Legally speaking, it is acceptable to create a religion purely as a joke. For confirmation, look no further than the religion of Pastafarianism. However, legal authorities are very aware of the potential for fraud, scams, and abuse within religious structures. The US government also has a tendency to crack down on cults – often in a very violent manner. To avoid legal issues, there are a number of activities you should steer clear of:

  • Political lobbying
  • Any illegal activity
  • Profits for private individuals

Consider Joining the Universal Life Church

While starting your own religion is fairly straightforward in the United States, it definitely takes time and can cost money that not everyone has. As an alternative, more and more people are becoming ordained by the Universal Life Church in order to forge their own paths and take control of their religious and spiritual lives. Many Americans are still hungry for the spiritual growth and empowerment that becoming an ordained minister of the Universal Life Church can provide. The ULC has also become renowned for its role as a champion of religious freedom, social justice, and spiritual expression. While the ULC has become a global leader in these fields, it largely attributes that status to the commitment and competence of the millions of empowered ministers brought together in a world tent of togetherness.

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