The Religious Freedom Restoration Act was signed into law 25 years ago by Democratic President Bill Clinton on Nov. 16, 1993.
Currently, there are 21 states that have their own state laws that model the RFRA legislation at the federal level.
Georgia does not have a RFRA state law. Georgia’s version in recent years has been met with stiff resistance from pro-business, LBGTQ, and other special interest groups citing the law would encourage discriminatory actions and hinder businesses from coming to Georgia.
In 2016, Georgia’s version of the RFRA bill was vetoed by Governor Nathan Deal citing that the bill would damage the state’s reputation.
“Our people work side by side without regard to the color of our skin, or the religion we adhere to. We are working to make life better for our families and our communities. That is the character of Georgia. I intend to do my part to keep it that way,” he said. “For that reason, I will veto HB 757.” – Deal’s 2016 Veto Statement.
The intent of RFRA legislation aims to protect and restrict government overreach on one’s religious decisions and practices. Below is a summary of the federal RFRA Act of 1993:
Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 – Prohibits any agency, department, or official of the United States or any State (the government) from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, except that the government may burden a person’s exercise of religion only if it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person: (1) furthers a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.
Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker released the following statement on Friday about the 25th anniversary of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA):
“Today (Friday – Nov. 16) marks the 25th anniversary of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), an important law protecting one of our most fundamental freedoms. RFRA was approved by Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support, passing the House unanimously and approved 97 to 3 in the Senate, and signed into law by President Clinton.
“RFRA ensures that our foundational freedom of religious liberty is protected: the right to believe, worship, and practice our faiths according to the dictates of our consciences.
“RFRA requires that whenever actions by the federal government would impose a substantial burden on a person’s religious exercise, the government must give reasons for doing so. And unless the government has a compelling reason, and the government action burdens religion no more than is necessary, RFRA requires that the government accommodate religious freedom.
“It is a remarkable thing for any government to impose such restraints on itself. It is much easier for a government to operate in a manner it believes to be most effective and disregard the costs on individual liberty and conscience. The enactment of RFRA was a bold affirmation that religious freedom and freedom of conscience are precious and deserving of protection, even if this may make things harder for the government.
“The enactment of RFRA was also a re-affirmation of America’s promise to protect religious minorities, which stretches back to George Washington’s promise to the Jewish Congregation in Newport that they would find not only tolerance but equal rights in America, and President Lincoln’s granting of conscientious objector status to Quakers during the Civil War. Minority faiths have been protected by RFRA over the past 25 years.
“Today we celebrate the anniversary of this law and renew our commitment to protecting the freedom of all Americans to exercise their religious convictions openly, in speech and actions. Under President Donald Trump, the Department of Justice will continue defend the rights of people of faith.”
Below are the following states that have their own versions of the RFRA Act:
- Alabama (state constitution amendment)
- New Mexico
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
An additional 10 states have RFRA-like provisions that were provided by state court decisions rather than via legislation: