November 15, 2019 Feature

In the Wrong Hands, RFRA Shields Perpetrators of Crimes Against Children

Marci A. Hamilton & Alice Nasar Hanan

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) is a federal law that sought to protect a believer’s religious exercise from being substantially burdened by any government rule of general applicability. In practice, RFRA actually forces the government to prove in every single case that a law serves a “compelling interest” before it can apply to a believer and that the law is the “least restrictive means” of furthering that interest for one believer. RFRA was held unconstitutional in Boerne v. Flores in 1997, but Congress re-enacted RFRA to apply to federal law in 2000, and states subsequently adopted their own versions of religious freedom restoration or protection legislation. With this legislative landscape, religious individuals and entities have capitalized on RFRA protections to demand rights that in many instances are harmful to children and undermine the public good.

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