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WHAT IS THE RELIGIOUS FREEDOM RESTORATION ACT?

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("RFRA") is a religious freedom law. Congress enacted RFRA in 1993. Democrats and republicans alike, in bipartisan fashion, pushed for the law, and President Clinton signed RFRA into law.

The RFRA applies to the Christian faith and to other religions as well.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (42 U.S.C.  2000bb through 42 U.S.C.  2000bb-4) provides, in pertinent part, that:

“Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability” UNLESS two conditions are both met:

First, the burden must be necessary for the “furtherance of a compelling government interest;” AND

Second, the rule must be the least restrictive way in which to further the government interest.

This is known as the “strict scrutiny” test.

Why RFRA was written and enacted?

Before 1990, the Supreme Court's free exercise of religion test was the test later articulated in the RFRA.

But in 1990 in Employment Division v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990), the United States Supreme Court reversed this traditional test finding that the government no longer had to show a very important reason for superseding a person's religious convictions.

The RFRA was a response to the above-cited decision.  RFRA restored the "compelling interest" test.

RFRA in Individual States:

In Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. 507 (1997), the Supreme Court eliminated state and local laws from RFRA's reach. But RFRA is relevant to federal laws.     

After the Boerne decision, as of the end of 2013, eighteen states adopted state RFRAs, patterned after federal RFRA, including (alphabetically):  Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Virginia.

RFRA Benefits all United States (American) Citizens:

Treats All Faiths Equally: "Minority" faiths have equal status with other religions.

Balancing Test: The RFRA sensible balancing test weigh religious liberty against government interests. 

Government Disclosure and Accountability: Under the RFRA, the government officials must justisfy religious freedom restrictions.  It gives the government incentive to creatively find ways to promote government interests while respecting individual's religious freedom.

Promotes Religious Pluralism and Diversity: RFRA reinforces the right of a person to live according to the dictates of their conscience (which includes their religious beliefs).

Religious Debate Preserved and Conflict Reduced: When everyone's religious rights are guaranteed, conflicts are not necessary.  Yet, true to our democratic republic's freedom of speech and expression, all views, including minority and unpopular views can be presented ("marketplace of ideas") giving people a real choice of what to believe.

Preserves U.S. History of Religious Freedom: Under RFRA, America can continue those who seek religion freedom from those who are fleeing religious persecution to those already benefitting from the freedoms in place already.

Summary: RFRA protects a vital God-given inalienable right.  Further, RFRA supports the U.S. Constitution’s provisions of limited powers of government, evenhanded pluralism, freedom of speech, and religious liberty for ALL American citizens.

2014 by Matthew B. Tozer Esq.  All rights reserved.

See another religion based federal law article: Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act

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