The Religious Freedom Restoration Act was introduced by then-Congressman Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) on March 11, 1993 before sailing nearly unanimously through Congress before President Bill Clinton signed it into law, but New Jersey Democrat Lisa McCormick argues that the measure carved out exemptions from federal laws and regulations based on religion in what appears to be a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
“A decade ago, it was taboo to criticize religion or religious believers in print. They were a benign presence in America right next to apple pie,” said Marci A. Hamilton, who wrote God vs. the Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law to unmask a reality most Americans would want to know.
In 1997, in the City of Boerne v. Flores decision, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) did not apply to the states.
Since 1993, 21 states have enacted state RFRAs. These laws are intended to echo the federal RFRA, but are not necessarily identical to the federal law. Arkansas and Indiana are the most recent states to enact an RFRA, doing so in 2015.
The law was applied to the federal government in two notable Supreme Court cases, Gonzales v. O Centro Espírita Beneficente União do Vegetal (2006) and Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (2014).
In its landmark Hobby Lobby case, the top court recognized a for-profit corporation’s claim of religious belief and struck down the regulation adopted by the US Department of Health and Human Services under the Affordable Care Act requiring employer-provided insurance to cover contraceptives for their female employees.
McCormick said that she would like to repeal the unconstitutional law and set better boundaries on what employers may demand of the people who work for them.
“The United States was founded on the principle of religious liberty—a principle that is now under threat,” McCormick said. “At the nation’s outset, our nation’s founders established a unique society without a government-established religion, cemented that in the First Amendment to the Constitution, and sanctioned rights for religious people.”
“In recent years, however, the right to religious liberty has increasingly been exploited and misused in order to favor the interests of select, privileged conservative Protestant Christians over the basic rights of the most vulnerable Americans,” McCormick said. “The principle of religious liberty should extend to all people, not only ones who come from a specific set of religious beliefs.”
“Almost two-thirds of Americans believe that there should be a strict separation between church and state, and nine out of 10 agree that the United States was founded with universal religious freedom that extends to people of all religions,” McCormick said. “We must elect leaders who will preserve religious liberty for all Americans—not solely those with the loudest voices, most money or strongest political connections.”