Religious Freedom Laws – RFRA and RLUIPA
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act was born out of the anxiety and legal uncertainty of the protection of religious practices created in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith. Religious advocates and legal scholars alike recognized that ruling had dramatically changed the nature of religious freedom in America. If the plaintiffs in Smith had no claim because the law they violated did not specifically target their religious practice, then the protections we assumed for any number of religious practices and practitioners were called into question.
The founders of Interfaith Alliance saw that protecting the civil rights of all Americans and rectifying the damage done to religious freedom by Smith were profoundly linked. That is why, since our inception, Interfaith Alliance has partnered with people of a wide-range of faith traditions to ensure that no federal law or policy stands in the way of a person practicing the tenets of their own faith. Over the years both RFRA and The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) have served as important legal and rhetorical tools toward achieving that goal.
However, even in the immediate aftermath of RFRA’s passage, it was clear that many advocates sought a drastically different definition of religious freedom than we – or, we believe, the framers of the Constitution – had in mind. Activists have tried to turn RFRA into a private right to discriminate, seeking exemptions for private companies from non-discrimination policies. Others have sought the ability to foist their religious beliefs onto their employees by controlling their access to benefits and rights at work.
Since our inception, Interfaith Alliance has fought to counteract this dangerous view of religious freedom. Our work continues to be guided by these twin goals – to defend the personal rights of conscience for people of every faith, while pursuing a definition of religious freedom that expands the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom and equality for all. While we believe that RFRA, RLUIPA, and most importantly the First Amendment, support that approach, dissenting activists and their political and legal allies have not relented.
While many faith traditions have grappled with issues of equality, including same-gender marriage, much of that work has been viewed through a scriptural lens. Interfaith Alliance seeks to shift the perspective on LGBTQ equality from that of problem to solution, from a scriptural argument to a religious freedom agreement, and to address the issue of equality as informed by our Constitution.
Religious schools provide an important service to many students and families; however, Interfaith Alliance firmly believes that public funds should not go to private religious schools or to any educational institutions that may discriminate against students and teachers based on religion. Interfaith Alliance has a long history of fighting in the halls of Congress and in our communities to ensure that voucher programs for sectarian schools are eliminated, not expanded.
Combating Religious Discrimination
Religious minorities in the United States continue to be the target of discrimination based on their faith. Interfaith Alliance works actively with these communities to change perceptions and foster an an environment of understanding. Sadly, the results of this kind of discrimination go beyond hateful rhetoric to violent acts including attacks against religious minorities.
Interfaith Alliance is supported in its work by a committed grassroots base including 16 affiliates and partner groups across the country. Our affiliates focus on combating religious extremism and building common ground as a way of preventing the misuse of religion for political purposes. Affiliates support our work and show and amplify our voice in the halls of government. At the same time, our affiliates work on local aspects of our national issues and on issues in their areas that threaten to divide communities.
Election Year Program
Interfaith Alliance is making a difference in America by promoting the positive and healing role of religion in public life; encouraging civic participation; facilitating community activism; and challenging religious political extremism. However, religion’s powerful healing force can be severely compromised when America’s shared values are replaced by values that advance only particular sectarian interests.
Our Election Year program analyzes and interprets the role that religion plays in an election year and seeks to establish a partnership between religion and government that preserves the autonomy of houses of worship and ensures that religious institutions are not held accountable to the priorities and interests of political candidates. We strongly support the prohibition of houses of worship endorsing/opposing candidates that currently exist (Johnson Amendment)
State of Belief our Weekly Radio Program
Each week at stateofbelief.com, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy offers listeners critical analysis of the news of religion and politics, and seeks to provide listeners with an understanding and appreciation of religious freedom. Rev. Gaddy tackles politics with the firm belief that the best way to secure freedom for religion in America is to secure freedom from religion. State of Belief illustrates how the Religious Right is wrong – wrong for America and bad for religion.