1997 June 25

Religious Freedom Restoration Act Held Unconstitutional

 

In Boerne v. Flores, decided on this day, the Supreme Court held that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), enacted on November 16, 1993, was unconstitutional as it applied to the states. The controversy originated with the Supreme Court decision in Employment Division v. Smith, decided on April 17, 1990, in which the Court upheld the denial of unemployment benefits to Alfred Smith because he used peyote. Smith claimed that he used peyote as part of a traditional Native American religious ritual.

That decision outraged leaders from many different religions across the country, leading to the enactment of RFRA. The Boerne case involved a zoning dispute in the city of Boerne, Texas, near San Antonio, in which the city sought to prevent the expansion of a church because it was located in an historic district; the church responded that the city could not restrict its free exercise of religion under RFRA. The Supreme Court decided in favor of the city, holding that RFRA exceeded the powers allowed it under the Fourteenth Amendment.

RFRA remained in effect with regard to the federal government, and was the basis for the religious freedom challenge to the Affordable Care Act in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby on June 30, 2014.

Read: Carolyn Long, Religious Freedom and Indian Rights: the Case of Oregon v. Smith (2000)

Learn more about the Free Exercise of Religion: http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/category/religion

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