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Religious Freedom Restoration Act

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (42 U.S.C. § 2000bb) is also known under the shortened name RFRA. Signed into United States federal law in 1993, this act aims to prevent the creation and implementation of any law(s) that places any substantial burden on a person’s free exercize rights of practicing their religion. The RFRA reinstates the Sherbert Test which was created through two cases: Sherbert v Verner and Wisconsin v Yoder, both of which mandate that strict scrutiny be used when determining if the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution – which guarantees religious freedom – has been violated.

Congress stated through its findings that “a religiously neutral law can burden a religion just as much as one that was intended to interfere with religion.” The RFRA states that that the “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.” The law provides an exception if two conditions are both met. First, if the burden is necessary for the “furtherance of a compelling government interest.” Under strict scrutiny, a government interest is compelling when it is more than routine and does more than simply improve government efficiency. A compelling interest relates directly with core constitutional issues. The second condition is that the rule must be the least restrictive way in which to further the government interest.

Title 42, Chapter 21B, § 2000bb. Congressional findings and declaration of purposes

(a) Findings

The Congress finds that–

(1) the framers of the Constitution, recognizing free exercise of religion as an unalienable right, secured its protection in the First Amendment to the Constitution;
(2) laws “neutral” toward religion may burden religious exercise as surely as laws intended to interfere with religious exercise;
(3) governments should not substantially burden religious exercise without compelling justification;
(4) in Employment Division v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990) the Supreme Court virtually eliminated the requirement that the government justify burdens on religious exercise imposed by laws neutral toward religion; and
(5) 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.

(b) Purposes

The purposes of this chapter are–

(1) 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; and
(2) to provide a claim or defense to persons whose religious exercise is substantially burdened by government.

 

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