State Issue: Religious Freedom Restoration Acts

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act is a law that allows religious people, businesses, and/or corporations to violate generally applicable laws by claiming that the laws conflict with their religious beliefs. The federal version is written: “Government may substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion only if it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person— (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.” Many states have RFRAs too, but those three concepts—burden, compelling governmental interest, and least restrictive means—appear in every RFRA and apply a very high bar to government action, known as “strict scrutiny.”

The FFRF Action Fund opposes RFRA in all its forms, and supports repealing existing state RFRAs. The First Amendment provides adequate protections for non-harmful religious exercise, whereas RFRA allows religious individuals to effectively opt out of many laws that others must follow. This two-tiered justice system unjustly disfavors nonreligious individuals and places a major burden on the government, forcing religious exemptions to nearly every conceivable law.

A federal bill called the Do No Harm Act would lessen the damage of RFRA by prohibiting its use when doing so would harm another. This base protection should be noncontroversial, and is an unambiguous move in the right direction, though repealing RFRA outright would be preferable.