RFRA Highlighted on Senate Floor

In the wake of attacks on religious freedom, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) took to the Senate Floor this week to defend this constitutional right.  He specifically highlighted the importance of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a law he co-sponsored and helped to pass in 1993.

Senator Hatch stated that attacks by activists against religious freedom are “misinformed, misguided, and misleading” and they “will serve only to harm religious freedom and to demonize religious people.”  He added:

 [T]hey dismiss religious freedom as a sham, as little more than an excuse for mean-spirited people who want to discriminate.  Today’s opponents of religious freedom laws either do not know, or do not care, that religious freedom is an integral part of the origin, the identity, and the very life of our nation. They are also clearly misinformed about how, even in America, the reality of religious freedom has not always matched the promise of religious freedom.  The truth is that government does many things that compromise, burden, and even prohibit the exercise of religion. 

After recounting significant points in the history of religious freedom protection in this nation, Senator Hatch paid particular attention to RFRA.  He declared the claims that the federal or state RFRAs are disguises for discrimination are “complete fiction.” Rather, he said, “RFRA was passed so that the fundamental, inalienable right to practice religion can have at least some legal protection.”

RFRA, which demands deference to religious liberty unless there is a “compelling government interest” achieved by the “least restrictive means,” was passed unanimously in the House of Representatives and by a 97-3 vote in the Senate in 1993. On November 16, 1993, President Bill Clinton signed the bill in the White House Rose Garden and declared, “The free exercise of religion has been called the first freedom – that which originally sparked the development of the full range of the Bill of Rights. Our founders… knew that there needed to be a space of freedom between government and people of faith that otherwise government might usurp.”

By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations

Published: May 1, 2015

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