Date: Wed, 25 Jun 1997 22:33:11 -0400 (EDT)
From: Ras Iyah Ben Makahna <>
To: "Carl E. Olsen" <>
Subject: Religious Freedom Restoration Act

RFRA Ruling Called 'Serious Blow' to Religious Liberty

     NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- (BUSINESS WIRE) -- June 25, 1997 -- Today's U. S. Supreme Court action striking down the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is a serious blow to religious liberty, according to Dr. Charles Haynes, First Amendment Center Scholar in Residence, and an expert on religious liberty issues.

     In a 6-3 decision, the Court ruled that Congress overstepped its constitutional powers when it enacted RFRA.

     "Without RFRA, religious people will be unable to seek relief from state action that burdens their faith," Haynes said.  "The First Amendment's guarantee of free exercise of religion means little if religious people and organizations are unable to get exemptions from state laws."

     RFRA, passed by Congress in 1993, prohibited government from substantially burdening a person's exercise of religion without demonstrating a compelling state interest in doing so.  Government also had to demonstrate that it had chosen the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.

     The constitutionality of RFRA was challenged in a case involving St. Peter Catholic Church in Boerne, Texas.  The church applied for a building permit to expand its facilities for a growing congregation.  The City Council denied the permit because the building is in an historic district protected by the city's Historic Landmark Commission.

     Citing RFRA, the Archbishop sued claiming that the free exercise rights of the church members were violated by the refusal of the city to allow expansion of their church.  The church lost on the district court level, but won on appeal.  Today's action reverses the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals finding that RFRA is constitutional.

     Although the loss of RFRA makes it much more difficult for religious individuals and groups to challenge state laws, Haynes says that public school officials will still have to take religious liberty claims seriously.  "In public schools, the right to the free exercise of religion can be linked to the right of parents to control their children's education.  When two constitutional rights are linked, the Supreme Court has indicated that the compelling interest test will still be used." (See also:

     Copyright 1997, Business Wire