RFRA recognizes conflict


To the Editor:

The letter in The Catholic Messenger for July 9, “Secularism gone amuck,” was similar to much Catholic response to the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage. The First Amendment to the Constitution is cited and interpreted as protecting all religiously inspired activity from state laws. The Court’s decision is thus seen as a major dislocation in the American saga, a betrayal of one of the fundamental principles that this country is based upon.

This is mistaken. The interpretation of the First Amendment in recent decades has followed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which recognized that conflicts between laws and religious practice are bound to arise and provided criteria by which specific conflicts are to be judged.

The central text of the RFRA is as follows:


(a) In general: Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, except as provided in subsection (b) of this section.
(b) Exception: Government may substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion only if it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person —
(1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and
(2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.
(c) Judicial relief: A person whose religious exercise has been burdened in violation of this section may assert that violation as a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding and obtain appropriate relief against a government.

The courts may find that the compelling government interest can be attained without Catholic florists and bakers having to provide flowers and cakes. However, I suppose they would have to show that their principles led them to refuse service for any other “so-called marriages” that didn’t meet Catholic criteria for validity. Otherwise their claims might seem to result from prejudice rather than religious principle.

Jim McCue
Iowa City

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