What are the Religious Freedom Restoration Acts?

There has been much talk about the recently passed Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in Indiana. If you only scanned headlines, you would think that all of the Religious Freedom Restoration Acts were all about discriminating against homosexuals, when actually, there is no language in any of the RFRAs that even mentions homosexuals. 

So what then are the RFRAs about? And why did I read “all of the Religious Freedom Restoration Acts?” Aren’t we just talking about Indiana? Well actually, to understand the RFRA passed by Indiana, it must first be understood that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was a federal law first.

The Gospel Coalition answers the first question:

“What is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act?

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) is a federal law passed in 1993 which is intended to prevent other federal laws from substantially burdening a person’s free exercise of religion. The legislation was introduced by Rep. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on March 11, 1993 and passed by a unanimous U.S. House and a near unanimous U.S. Senate with three dissenting votes. The bill was signed into law by President Bill Clinton.

According to the text of the law, the purposes of the RFRA 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.”

In answer to the next question- not only is there federal legislation in place, several states have RFRAs, 19 in fact! And ten other states have religious liberty protections in place, which means over half of the United States think protecting religious liberty is important.

To have more of you questions about RFRAs answered, such as- Why was the RFRA needed? If we have the RFRA, why do we need religious freedom legislation at the state level? Which states have state-level Religious Freedom Restoration Acts? What exactly is “strict scrutiny”? Aren’t state RFRA’s about discrimination against homosexuals? Why then do so many people claim it is about discrimination of homosexuals?– check out the article by Joe Carter at The Gospel Coalition.

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