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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


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 is a 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 Sherbert 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'nai Brith 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 Barny 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 on RFRA'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 To Me?, 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.

Source: Essay UK -

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