Religious Liberty

ACLU Drops Support for 1993 RFRA


In 1993, the American Civil Liberties Union supported passage of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a law initially passed to protect the exercise of religious belief, including by vulnerable religious minorities.

The act gained ACLU support and became federal law after Native Americans were fired from their jobs and denied unemployment benefits because they had used peyote in their religious ceremonies.

But, for more than 20 years, the ACLU became increasingly concerned about how the RFRA also could be used―and has been used―to discriminate against others. Here’s an example. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says the RFRA allows it to use taxpayer funds to help unaccompanied immigrant minors, many of whom have been raped, despite the fact that it refuses to provide them access to abortion and contraception services as required by law. It even claims Catholic groups don’t have to tell the government when they have a teen who needs care (because then the government might step in and help).

The act often is used now to discriminate against women, LGBT people, and others on “religious grounds.” And this is increasing even more now that the Supreme Court has ruled same-sex couples have the freedom to marry, with some states passing their own version of the law as justification to denied service, employ or provide housing to LGBT individuals.

The ACLU is withdrawing its support for the RFRA, at least until Congress amends the RFRA so that it cannot be used as a defense for discrimination.