Religious Freedom Restoration Act Overview

Opposition Talking Points
  • The RFRA was held unconstitutional as applied to the states in the City of Boerne v. Flores decision in 1997, which ruled that the RFRA is not a proper exercise of Congress’s enforcement power.
    • The Supreme Court, in an opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy, held that it holds the sole power to define the substantive rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment—a definition to which Congress may not add and from which it may not subtract.
    • The validity of the RFRA as applied to federal law was not at issue in this case.
  • The group, American Atheists, opposed the RFRA because they complained it gave “special rights” to churches, mosques, synagogues, temples and other sectarian organizations.
    • In Boerne v. Flores, Justice John Paul Stevens stated that the Act violated the principle of separation of church and state, by preferring religion over irreligion.
  • According to the Supreme Court in Boerne v. Flores and the majority opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy:
    • The, “RFRA is not a proper exercise of Congress’ enforcement power because it contradicts vital principles necessary to maintain separation of powers and the federal state balance.”
    • “It is difficult to maintain that such laws are based on animus or hostility to the burdened religious practices or that they indicate some widespread pattern of religious discrimination in this country.”
    • “It is so out of proportion to a supposed remedial or preventive object that it cannot be understood as responsive to, or designed to prevent, unconstitutional behaviour.”
    • “RFRA is a considerable congressional intrusion into the States’ traditional prerogatives and general authority to regulate for the health and welfare of their citizens, and is not designed to identify and counteract state laws likely to be unconstitutional because of their treatment of religion.”
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