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Essay/Term paper: Religious freedom restoration act

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Religion

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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
has a compelling interest but it must also demonstrate each of the three
requirements above. This section also states that this Act provides a cause of
action or a defense for any person whose religious exercise has been burdened,
and provides for legal fees. It is important to note that the term, "person,"
can refer to corporate bodies as well -- such as church or religious
organizations."(RFRA Summary, Map of the RFRA)

Section five of the RFRA included an important definition. This section defined
"government" to include any "federal, state or local branch, department, agency,
instrumentality, official or other person acting under color of law."(RFRA
Summary, Map of the RFRA) So now any part of the government had to provide the
three requirements that are defined above to issue laws against a religious
practice. No longer could the government just do what they wanted to do, they
had to prove that the religious act is a compelling state interest.

The RFRA was supported by many people. RFRA is enthusiastically
supported by more than fifty religious and civil liberties groups in the
political and theological fields. Never has a broader coalition been assembled
to support Congressional legislation. This was no ordinary coalition. It
included the American Civil Liberties Union, and the National Association of
Evangelicals; People for the American Way, and Concerned Women for America; the
American Muslim Council, and the American Jewish Congress; the Traditional
Values Coalition, and B'nai Brith of the Anti-Defamation League. In the opinion
of the Reverend Oliver Thomas, Chairman of Coalition for the Free Exercise of
Religion, and former General Counsel of the Baptist Joint Committee, this was
the most diverse coalition of religious and civil liberties. All of these
organizations have been willing to lay aside their deep ideological differences
in order to unite behind a principle -- religious liberty for all
Americans.(Questions and Answers, Map of the RFRA) The lead Senate sponsors
were Ted Kennedy and Orin Hatch. (Questions and Answers, Map of the RFRA) Among
the House sponsors were Newt Gingrich and Barny Frank. (Questions and Answers,
Map of the RFRA)

This act was enacted for one main reason. The religious freedom of the
country was being threatened by the Employment Division v. Smith case because
this case took away the qualification that you prove that the law against the
religious act be of compelling interest to the state. The RFRA was issued to
reinstate the qualifications for laws against religious freedoms.

The change this Act has brought is already significant. During the three
years prior to RFRA -- between the time that the Smith decision was handed down
(1990) and RFRA was enacted (1993) -- there have been approximately 60 cases
which have relied on the Smith decision. All of them were decided against the
free exercise or First amendment claims. From the time RFRA was enacted in late
1993 until May 1995, there have been over 87 court cases that have made
reference to it. Although some courts have found a sufficient compelling
governmental interest to warrant restriction of religious freedom, many courts
have supported the free exercise rights -- some courts have found that the
governmental interest was insufficient to warrant the burden on religion; others
found that the government had not used the least restrictive means of achieving
that interest.(RFRA Summary, Map of the RFRA)

"The Religious Freedoms Restoration Act is the most significant
legislation effecting religion in the history of the republic because it
provides strong protection for religious liberty for all Americans,
conservatives and liberals alike."(Questions and Answers, Map of the RFRA) This
Act also effects many people.

The first way it can effect a person is as a citizen. Simply put, you
should know your rights whether you practice a religion or not. "Apathy or
indifference to the freedoms we have will always lead to erosion of those
freedoms".(What Does It Mean To Me?, Map of the RFRA) Our rights don't come free,
they require constant vigilance. The First Amendment in the Bill of Rights
begins by listing freedom of religion before speech and press. We should all
carefully consider if the emphasis our founding fathers put on the free exercise
of religion is outdated or just as needed today.(What Does It Mean To Me?, Map
of the RFRA)

The second way that the act can effect a person is as a legislator.
Lawmakers have a special privilege and responsibility to be aware and sensitive
to the religious practices of others and the impact legislative language can
have on such practices. This especially applies to minority religions, whose
religious rights are so often ignored in the introduction of bills.
Understanding is the key to drafting good language. "Taking the time to
understand the needs of others in the religious community will not only protect
a particular religious practice, it really benefits us all."(What Does It Mean
To Me?, Map of the RFRA)

The third type of person effected is the churchgoer. If those who
practice religion don't defend their freedom, who will? "The diversity of the
68 plus organization that supported RFRA through Congress should encourage all
churchgoers to be active in their support and knowledge of this law."(What Does
It Mean To Me?, Map of the RFRA) The Religious Freedom Restoration Act wasn't
just thought up and enacted by lawyers and politicians. It is a fine example of
lawmaking in the best sense of the word. Many of those who worked long hours on
RFRA's passage into law were motivated by their devotion to their church and
considered this act vital to their own religious freedom as well as of those
around them. It was for most an unselfish labor of love.(What Does It Mean To
Me?, Map of the RFRA)

The fourth type of people the RFRA has an impact on is Doctors and
Nurses. Most physicians, nurses, health care providers and hospital
administrators today are aware of advance directives, refusal of blood
transfusions, diet restrictions, and the refusal of medical treatment in general.
Often religious practices underlie these individual decisions and approaches to
health care. Whenever a religious practice conflicts with the convictions of
those involved in the health care profession, RFRA should be consulted,
respected and understood to help accurately weigh the rights of each individual.

The last person that the act effects is the Attorneys and Judges.
Ignorance of the law by those who practice law or make legal decisions can be
devastating to a sense of justice and individual rights. RFRA's wording in law
is specific and exact and intended to raise a clear and high standard for the
freedom of religious practice. It deserves careful thought as to its meaning and
application.

The Religious Freedom Restoration act is a document that has helped to
undo the damage that the Employment Division v. Smith did to our freedoms as a
country. In less than four years over 60 court cases were used against the
people because of the decision of the courts in the Employment Division v. Smith
case, but sense the RFRA was put into action over 80 cases have come up
regarding it, and most of these cases have been ruled in favor of the people.
This act just brought back some of the freedoms that our fore fathers guaranteed
us, by reinstating the right to have a reason to take away our religious
freedoms. Now the government needs to find a reasonable reason of importance to
the state to stop any religious practice.



 

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