On its 25th birthday, a federal “religious liberty” law continues to legalize discrimination

A law passed in the name of religious liberty continues to legitimize discrimination a quarter century after it came into existence.

Twenty-five years ago today, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) went into effect. RFRA is a superstatute, effectively amending every other federal law, that Congress unanimously passed amid religious hysteria in response to a controversial 1990 Supreme Court case. This law allows religious people, businesses and/or corporations to violate generally applicable laws by claiming that the laws conflict with their religious beliefs.

Essentially, RFRA and its state counterparts create a legal loophole for anyone who wishes to discriminate in the name of religion, permitting individuals and corporations to be free from following the laws everyone else must follow if they claim it would "burden" their religion. And the bar for what constitutes a burden on religion has been set very low.

Further, RFRA is unconstitutional. While the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby ruling relied solely on the federal RFRA, rather than on an interpretation of the Constitution, the court intentionally avoided addressing whether RFRA is itself a constitutional law. FFRF's amicus brief in the case received national attention for being the only brief to argue that RFRA is unconstitutional.

Once considered a shield for religious liberty, even by many civil rights groups, RFRA has been turned into a weapon for discrimination as evidenced by that case. FFRF was one of the few organizations to originally oppose RFRA and has been actively calling for the repeal of this statute since the disastrous Hobby Lobby decision.

“Twenty-five years of legalized religion-based discrimination is enough,” comments FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Americans who believe in equal rights for women and LGBTQ individuals, and who do not believe that religious business owners should be allowed to exempt their business from federal laws, should demand an end to the age of RFRA.”

You can learn more about RFRA, and find out what can be done to stop it, here.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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