Religious Freedom Restoration Act In this paper I will describe the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. This Act was used to contradict the decision of the court case of Employment Division v. Smith, which allowed the government to forbid any religious act without giving a reason. The RFRA brought back the requirement that the government provide an adequate reason to forbid any religious act. The government once again had to show that the act was of compelling interest against the state.
In 1993 one of the most important acts that has gone thorough Congress was passed (Religious Freedom, Map of the RFRA). This was the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993 (Religious Freedom, Map of the RFRA). This act was passed to answer the 1990 court case Employment Division v. Smith (Questions and Answers, Map of the RFRA).
Employment Division v. Smith was a court case in which the issue was whether "Sacramental use of peyote by members of the Native American Church was protected under the free exercise clause of the First Amendment, which provides that 'Congress shall make no law... prohibiting the free exercise of religion'." (Questions and Answers, Map of the RFRA). According to Justice Scalia, "if prohibiting the exercise of religion was merely the incidental effect of a generally applicable and otherwise valid provision, the First Amendment was not offended." (Questions and Answers, Map of the RFRA). Thus,' ... the government no longer had to justify most burdens on religious exercise.
The free exercise clause offered protection only if a particular religious practice was singled out for discriminatory treatment. In short, free exercise was a sub category of equal protection. This placed religious rights in an inferior position to other First Amendment rights such as freedom of speech and press.' (Questions and Answers, Map of the RFRA). This court case caused a series of court cases about religious freedoms (Religious Freedom, Map of the RFRA). Congress enacted the RFRA to contradict the negative affect that court cases had recently had on religious freedoms (Religious Freedom, Map of the RFRA). The RFRA is what it states it is in the title, a restoration act (Religious Freedom, Map of the RFRA).
Congress decided that in Employment Division v. Smith,' the supreme court virtually eliminated the requirement that the government justify burdens on religious exercise imposed by laws neutral toward religion and the compelling interest test as set forth in prior Federal court rulings isa workable test for striking sensible balances between religious liberty and competing prior governmental interests.' (Religious Freedom, Map of the RFRA) In other words, the government did not have to have a reason to impose laws against a religious act. Thus the purpose of this act was "to restore the compelling interest test as set forth in S herbert v. Verner, 374 U. S.
398 (1963) and Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U. S. 205 (1972) and to guarantee its application in all cases where free exercise of religion is substantially burdened." (Religious Freedom, Map of the RFRA) The other purpose of this act was to "Provide a claim of defense to persons whose religious exercise is substantially burdened by the government." (Religious Freedom, Map of the RFRA) "The government may not substantially burden a person's exercise of religion even if the burden is a result of a general or neutral law." (RFRA Summary, Map of the RFRA) The only exception to this rule is,' if the government can demonstrate the following three things, that there is a compelling state interest, that a particular law, rule, decision or action actually furthers that compelling state interest, if there is a compelling state interest and this action furthers it, then the government must use the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.
Notice that the burden is on the government; the government cannot simply state that it has a compelling interest but it must also demonstrate each of the three requirements above. This section also states that this Act provides a cause of action or a defense for any person whose religious exercise has been burdened, and provides for legal fees. It is important to note that the term, 'person,' can refer to corporate bodies as well -- such as church or religious organizations.' (RFRA Summary, Map of the RFRA) Section five of the RFRA included an important definition. This section defined " government" to include any "federal, state or local branch, department, agency, instrumentality, official or other person acting under color of law." (RFRA Summary, Map of the RFRA) So now any part of the government had to provide the three requirements that are defined above to issue laws against a religious practice. No longer could the government just do what they wanted to do, they had to prove that the religious act is a compelling state interest. The RFRA was supported by many people.
RFRA is enthusiastically supported by more than fifty religious and civil liberties groups in the political and theological fields. Never has a broader coalition been assembled to support Congressional legislation. This was no ordinary coalition. It included the American Civil Liberties Union, and the National Association of Evangelicals; People for the American Way, and Concerned Women for America; the American Muslim Council, and the American Jewish Congress; the Traditional Values Coalition, and B'na i Brit h of the Anti-Defamation League. In the opinion of the Reverend Oliver Thomas, Chairman of Coalition for the Free Exercise of Religion, and former General Counsel of the Baptist Joint Committee, this was the most diverse coalition of religious and civil liberties. All of these organizations have been willing to lay aside their deep ideological differences in order to unite behind a principle -- religious liberty for all Americans.
(Questions and Answers, Map of the RFRA) The lead Senate sponsors were Ted Kennedy and Orin Hatch. (Questions and Answers, Map of the RFRA) Among the House sponsors were Newt Gingrich and Barry Frank. (Questions and Answers, Map of the RFRA) This act was enacted for one main reason. The religious freedom of the country was being threatened by the Employment Division v. Smith case because this case took away the qualification that you prove that the law against the religious act be of compelling interest to the state. The RFRA was issued to reinstate the qualifications for laws against religious freedoms.
The change this Act has brought is already significant. During the three years prior to RFRA -- between the time that the Smith decision was handed down (1990) and RFRA was enacted (1993) -- there have been approximately 60 cases which have relied on the Smith decision. All of them were decided against the free exercise or First amendment claims. From the time RFRA was enacted in late 1993 until May 1995, there have been over 87 court cases that have made reference to it.
Although some courts have found a sufficient compelling governmental interest to warrant restriction of religious freedom, many courts have supported the free exercise rights -- some courts have found that the governmental interest was insufficient to warrant the burden on religion; others found that the government had not used the least restrictive means of achieving that interest. (RFRA Summary, Map of the RFRA) 'The Religious Freedoms Restoration Act is the most significant legislation effecting religion in the history of the republic because it provides strong protection for religious liberty for all Americans, conservatives and liberals alike.' (Questions and Answers, Map of the RFRA) This Act also effects many people. The first way it can effect a person is as a citizen. Simply put, you should know your rights whether you practice a religion or not. "Apathy or indifference to the freedoms we have will always lead to erosion of those freedoms." (What Does It Mean To Me? , Map of the RFRA) Our rights don't come free, they require constant vigilance. The First Amendment in the Bill of Rights begins by listing freedom of religion before speech and press.
We should all carefully consider if the emphasis our founding fathers put on the free exercise of religion is outdated or just as needed today. (What Does It Mean To Me? , Map of the RFRA) The second way that the act can effect a person is as a legislator. Lawmakers have a special privilege and responsibility to be aware and sensitive to the religious practices of others and the impact legislative language can have on such practices. This especially applies to minority religions, whose religious rights are so often ignored in the introduction of bills. Understanding is the key to drafting good language. "Taking the time to understand the needs of others in the religious community will not only protect a particular religious practice, it really benefits us all." (What Does It Mean To Me? , Map of the RFRA) The third type of person effected is the churchgoer.
If those who practice religion don't defend their freedom, who will? "The diversity of the 68 plus organization that supported RFRA through Congress should encourage all churchgoers to be active in their support and knowledge of this law." (What Does It Mean To Me? , Map of the RFRA) The Religious Freedom Restoration Act wasn't just thought up and enacted by lawyers and politicians. It is a fine example of lawmaking in the best sense of the word. Many of those who worked long hours onRFRA's passage into law were motivated by their devotion to their church and considered this act vital to their own religious freedom as well as of those around them. It was for most an unselfish labor of love.
(What Does It Mean ToMe? , Map of the RFRA) The fourth type of people the RFRA has an impact on is Doctors and Nurses. Most physicians, nurses, health care providers and hospital administrators today are aware of advance directives, refusal of blood transfusions, diet restrictions, and the refusal of medical treatment in general. Often religious practices underlie these individual decisions and approaches to health care. Whenever a religious practice conflicts with the convictions of those involved in the health care profession, RFRA should be consulted, respected and understood to help accurately weigh the rights of each individual.
The last person that the act effects is the Attorneys and Judges. Ignorance of the law by those who practice law or make legal decisions can be devastating to a sense of justice and individual rights. RFRA's wording in law is specific and exact and intended to raise a clear and high standard for the freedom of religious practice. It deserves careful thought as to its meaning and application. The Religious Freedom Restoration act is a document that has helped to undo the damage that the Employment Division v. Smith did to our freedoms as a country.
In less than four years over 60 court cases were used against the people because of the decision of the courts in the Employment Division v. Smith case, but sense the RFRA was put into action over 80 cases have come up regarding it, and most of these cases have been ruled in favor of the people. This act just brought back some of the freedoms that our fore fathers guaranteed us, by reinstating the right to have a reason to take away our religious freedoms. Now the government needs to find a reasonable reason of importance to the state to stop any religious practice..