Religious Freedom in America: The Background and Importance of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 on Current Affairs and Religious Liberty

The following is a policy paper that I wrote as part of my studies with the Panetta Institute for Public Policy. It was written in the fall of 2014…

There are two things you do not discuss in public. You do not discuss religion; you do not discuss politics, and you definitely do not discuss them together. Both of these areas tend to be very divisive issues in today’s society. They can easily take any cordial conversation and turn it into a full-fledged shouting match very quickly. This is unfortunate because these are two of the issues that mean the most to history, culture, and the future.

Religion is very prominent throughout history. It has been the guiding force for kingdoms and empires. It has been the leading cause of wars and also of peace. For hundreds of years during the Middle Ages, religion was the main factor that determined almost everything that went on in the world. Religion has played a major role in the formation of the current culture.

The other major factor that has determined how people live is politics. Many people think “politics” is a dirty word that they associate with a bunch of egotistic men in a dark back room making shady deals to get more money in their own pockets. While this has been the case at times, it is thankfully the exception more than it is the rule. Politics is the art of compromise. Politicians negotiate in order to find a solution that would make the country better. Politics has had as much if not more of an effect on today’s culture and society as religion has. It affects the economy, the way of life, and the societal norms. Politics shapes the direction of a country and consequently shapes the culture and the way of life for its citizens.

The United States is unique because it was one of the first countries to be created upon the concept of a republic where the people chose representatives to be their voice in government. It was also founded on the principles of freedom. One of the main freedoms is the freedom of religion, and one of the laws that is currently dictating how one looks at the freedom of religion is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, also known as the RFRA.

In this paper, societal norms will be broken and both religion and politics will be the topics of the conversation. The background of religious freedom in the United States including the first settlers, the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, and the First Amendment will be discussed. The Supreme Court case Employment Division v. Smith (1990) that sparked the writing of the RFRA will be dissected, and the debate and discussion that Congress conducted when writing the RFRA as well as the text of the bill will be dug through. The application of the RFRA will be looked at in City of Boerne v. Flores (1997) and in the controversial decision that was handed down earlier this year in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (2014) and how the RFRA and the Hobby Lobby decision will be important moving forward. The paper will end with a discussion of the RFRA’s role in future legislation and case law. All of these topics will point to the fact that the United States has placed a high value on religious freedom and that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 has been one of the ways the country has worked hard to protect that freedom.

To read more, download Religious Freedom in America for Kindle here.


Matthew Brown

Matthew Brown is a law student at the University of Akron School of Law. He has a passion for religious liberty and constitutional law and a desire to see the nation strengthened through strong Christian churches, Christian families, and Christian individuals. You can connect with him on Twitter at @MattBrown1575.


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