Religious Freedom Restoration Act

Topics: First Amendment to the United States Constitution, Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Sherbert v. Verner Pages: 6 (1900 words) Published: October 8, 1999
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...
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