In wake of Hobby Lobby decision, religious leaders call for protection of RFRA

Appeal to Congress: preserve RFRA (photo: visitthecapitol.gov)
Appeal to Congress: preserve RFRA (photo: visitthecapitol.gov)
The U.S. Supreme Court based its recent Obamacare contraceptive mandate decision not on constitutional law, but on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. That’s a statute passed by Congress, and it could be repealed by Congress. Repeal would suit Hobby Lobby’s opponents very well. Some American religious leaders are anticipating such a move, and they are going on record now in defense of RFRA. No fewer than ten faiths are represented by the people who signed an open letter to Congressional leaders on June 30, as reported at usccb.org.

TO: House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell

RE: Protecting the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993

Dear Speaker Boehner, Minority Leader Pelosi, Majority Leader Reid, and Minority Leader McConnell:

We are leaders of diverse faith communities representing over 100 million Americans. Our faith communities worship in many different ways, and we have different views on many things. But in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in favor of Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties (Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores), we are united in our
staunch support for maintaining all of the existing provisions and protections of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA). RFRA is a highly flexible legal standard that protects the rights and liberties of individuals of all religious faiths, including the most vulnerable.

The Supreme Court affirmed that all Americans—including family business owners—should be free to live and work according to their faith and receive the protections afforded by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. When President Clinton signed RFRA into law over twenty years ago, he finalized the work of overwhelming bipartisan majorities in the United States House and Senate. Only three Members of Congress voted against RFRA. Not one of Congress’s 535 Members suggested that this landmark new law would not protect a person’s free exercise of religion if she chose to provide for herself, her family, and her employees by starting a business.

In the United States, freedom of religion has always included—and should always include—the right to live out one’s religion and act according to one’s conscience outside the walls of one’s house of worship. Every single day, millions of Americans are motivated by their faith to go and serve the neediest among us. The good works of these individuals of faith can be seen in soup kitchens, hospitals, schools, hospices—and, yes, family-owned businesses.

For over two decades, RFRA has protected Americans of all faiths from government coercion. Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, and others all benefit when powerful government officials know that, as President Bill Clinton stated when he signed RFRA, government must meet “a very high level of proof before it interferes with someone’s free
exercise of religion.”

We have come together to write this letter with one specific plea: Do not amend or repeal RFRA, one of our nation’s most vital legal protections for the religious freedom and rights of conscience of every person of every faith.

Changing RFRA because some disagree with one particular application of the law would set a dark precedent by undermining the fundamental principle of religious freedom for all, even for those whose religious beliefs may be unpopular at the moment. Congress has never passed legislation with the specific purpose of reducing Americans’ religious freedom. It should not consider doing so now. Freedom of religion, like freedom of speech, must stand for all Americans, for all time.

Respectfully yours,
Jo Anne Lyon, General Superintendent, The Wesleyan Church
Dr. Russell Moore, President, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention
Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, President, The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod
Rabbi Leonard Matanky, President, & Rabbi Mark Dratch, Executive Vice President, The Rabbinical Council of America
Most Reverend Joseph E. Kurtz, D.D., Archbishop of Louisville, President, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Bishop Charles E. Blake, Sr., Presiding Bishop, Church of God in Christ
Gary E. Stevenson, Presiding Bishop, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Dr. George O. Wood, General Superintendent, Assemblies of God, USA
Nathan J. Diament, Executive Director for Public Policy, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America
Dwayne O. Leslie, Director of Legislative Affairs, General Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists
Dr. L. Roy Taylor, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America