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The Intuitive Guide to Religious Liberty Law

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Have you ever been challenged by someone wanting to know what, exactly, merits the protection of the First Amendment when it comes to religious liberty? Because our country and culture have drifted so far from the common opinion of the Founders (let alone the many generations following), addressing that question takes some thought.

Jordan Lorence, who is Senior Counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, has a post up at the Witherspoon Institute’s Public Discourse website that walks the reader through an example in applying common sense. If you have a few minutes it’s worth your time. Here is the lead and his opening:

Common sense can tell us whether particular citizens should be exempt from certain government policies for religious reasons. Codifying such instinctive judgments into formal statutes is more difficult.

The concept of religious liberty can be confusing and complex, but it becomes clearer when we think about it in an intuitive sense. There are good cases in which the religious person should win, bad cases in which the religious person should lose, and difficult cases that fall somewhere in the middle. The challenge is how to codify such instinctive judgments into formal, statutory language applied by courts of law.

That’s what the broad coalition that supported the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) attempted to do in 1993. A large majority of Congress voted for RFRA, and President Bill Clinton signed the bill into law. Many of the same questions and concerns we hear today came up at that time. Back then, most people, whether on the right or the left, religious or secular, agreed that it was important to protect religious liberty and conscience rights. The challenge was how to do it—how to protect the litigants in the good cases and not protect them in the bad cases, and how to address the difficult cases in the middle.

To better understand the challenges of crafting formal legal protections for religious liberty, consider the following “Intuitive Guide to Religious Liberty Law.” It illustrates what Congress and the supporters of religious liberty were trying to do by passing the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993, and the various state RFRAs that have been passed since then.

Read more: Public Discourse

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