The federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and its state counterparts are at the center of today’s debates over religious freedom.
The recent Supreme Court decisions in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Zubik v. Burwell involve the federal RFRA and litigation in federal and state courts will continue to focus on RFRAs. The backlash we see in the states to so-called religious freedom bills started with RFRAs and includes the recent battles in Indiana and Georgia. And many policy debates—on both the state and federal level—come down to disagreements over the meaning of RFRA and whether it can be used to trump laws prohibiting discrimination or ensuring access to vital health care services.
Congress enacted the federal RFRA in 1993 with the goal of protecting religious liberty, especially for religious minorities. At the time of its passage, a broad coalition of progressive and conservative groups supported the law, but since then, RFRA, and its state counterparts, have been misconstrued and exploited in ways its original proponents never could have imagined.
Many have attempted (too often successfully) to use RFRAs to trump nondiscrimination and healthcare laws, and deny rights to others. Indeed, attempts to pass new RFRA bills in the states are now accompanied by anti-LGBT rhetoric and statements touting RFRA as a tool to take away other people’s rights.
Frequently Asked Questions
Learn about RFRA, its history, and how it's being misused.
What Is RFRA?
Why Did Congress Pass RFRA?
How Was The Law Supposed to Work?
What Went Wrong?
How Are RFRAs Being Misused?
If There's A Federal RFRA, Why Do States Have RFRAs Too?
If RFRAs Are Being Misused, Why Not Repeal Them?
How Can We Restore RFRA?
RFRA Legislation In The States
Twenty-one states have adopted RFRAs of their own. Like the federal RFRA, state RFRAs initially were not controversial. But after years of people and corporations misusing and misconstruing RFRA, that has changed. Now, we see legislators introducing RFRAs in the states with the goal of using the laws to justify discrimination and deny rights and access to healthcare to others.
Read some of the lessons learned by states considering or enacting RFRA legislation.
RFRAs Across The Country
Find out about state-level RFRA legislation and RFRA-like provisions in state constitutions with our RFRA Map. Click here for more details.
Here's what you should know about why it's harmful for states to adopt either the federal RFRA or an Indiana-style RFRA.