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 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