How did a bill defending religious liberty, which passed the Senate 97-3 and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton, become so controversial? This is the question posed in an op-ed published last Friday by the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board, examining recent liberal opposition to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. The Times contends that the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, as well as recent attempts to protect religious bakeries, for example, have made it clear that Congress must restrict religious freedom protections lest they “be used to justify discrimination.”
They admit the need for some religious accommodation: Muslim prisoners can grow beards, and Native Americans and Sikhs may keep ceremonial items related to their faith. But they draw the line at acting on any religious belief. Or, rather, refusing to act contrary to religious belief. Protecting outward signs of faith is fine, it seems, so long as the protection does not extend to acting on the convictions they signify.
They even claim to basically agree with RFRA, which established that the government may not substantially burden anyone’s free exercise of religion unless the burden furthers a compelling government interest and is the least restrictive means of doing so. But it is hard to imagine a more restrictive burden on religious belief than coercing adherents of the world’s major religions to act against thousands of years of religious teaching.
The Times proposes as remedies the Do No Harm Act and the Equality Act of 2015. Continue Reading