6 May 2022


Religious Freedoms versus Civil Liberties and Civil Rights

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The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was passed as a Congress Law by the Congress back in 1993, and it was immediately signed into law by the then president Bill Clinton. It was then meant to be applicable only to the local governments and the several states until 1997 in the City of Boerbe v. Flores. The ruling, in this case, held that the RFRA was only applicable to the federal government, and did do not apply to the local municipalities or states within them. Consequently, it is notable that there are 21 states that have already asked their own RFRAs and these are applicable to their local governments. Consequently, this has raised concern that the Acts may give businesses and organizations a right to discriminate against the gay people by refusing to offer them services. It is felt that the civil rights and liberties of the group will be infringed as the religious rights come into play. This paper represents situations or cases in which the religious freedoms and civil liberties have come into play. It also details the cases that have been ruled in favor of the religious groups who defended their actions using RFRA.

It is notable that some religious organizations and their legal representatives advocate using RFRA in permitting individuals and even organizations to refuse to serve same-sex couples, as in their terms, that would mark a breach of their religious rights. Moreover, some have used the same argument to deny the homosexuals employment. This contradicts the human rights that call for non-discrimination and makes the people in this category suffer an infringement of their rights. Case in point, the labor laws prohibit the discrimination of employers based on their race, gender, ethnicity, sexual inclinations among other backgrounds. Using RFRA to discriminate the same sex couple of jobs or to refrain from offering those services conflicts with their civil rights.

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It is also notable that many of the non-discriminal laws either federal or state prohibit religious discrimination but most of them exempt churches and religious organizations, and this still infringes the rights of those who would be discriminated against. The decision to hire or fire workers in a religious organization like a church based on the religious stand and grounds affects the employee's rights under the state and federal employment laws. 

In Hobby Lobby Stores v. Burwell, the supreme court granted victory to Davis and Barbara Green and they business (Hobby Lobby), stating that the individuals cannot lose their religious right when the open a business as a family as they said the two individuals were not supposed to pay any fines or violate their religious freedom. The Human and Health Service in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby would have demanded that David and Barbra should pay four drugs that were potentially life-terminating devices in their insurance plans. This would have been against their religious convictions, and if they never agreed, they would have been required to pay severe fines. The two stated that this infringed their religious beliefs and used the RFRA or defends their case (Eisgruber & Sager, 2017). 

On the other hand, In Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Health and Human Services Department, Conestoga, which is also a family owned business that is geared towards making a profit, claimed that the Obama Care Birth control mandate is against RFRA. The Supreme Court was required to give profit-making firms an exemption from the law that must be followed by everyone in the general public. This right is meant to be held by all corporations (Bomboy 2014).

Moreover, similar controversies and fears arose in Indiana and were brought to a stop when Mike Pence, who was the Indiana Governor, signed a religious freedom bill into law almost in a secret setting (Eisgruber & Sager, 2017). Prior to the signing, he had been really pressured by legislators not to sign the bill, as it would infringe people, and especially gay's rights. On his side, he said that there was no discrimination, and this was just misunderstandings. Notably, the signed bill prohibits local and state governments from burdening individuals' ability or capacity to exercise their religion. The exemption only occurs when the government can show or prove that it has compelling interests and that the restriction is the least restrictive means of achieving the same. This bill makes many people feel that the religious people and organizations will deny the gays and lesbians their rights for purposes that were religious. In the signing process that was done in a private ceremony, nuns, orthodox Jews, and monks were present among others like the supportive policymakers (Eisgruber & Sager, 2017). 

In conclusion, it is clear that the formation and signing of RFRA causes many to feel that their civil rights will be infringed by religious groups, organizations, and people. Moreover, given the recent case rulings, the people who are inclined to religious practices tend to win the case when they use the RFRA laws (Eisgruber & Sager, 2017). Albeit the people whose rights are infringed can prove that their rights were infringed by the religiously inclined people, the religious folks and their lawyers can also proof that they are within the RFRA law. It is, therefore, clear that the two conflict and a line should be drawn to bring more clarity so that the lawmakers do not lean too much on one side. 


Bomboy S., (2014). What is RFRA and why do we care? Retrieved from: https://constitutioncenter.org/blog/what-is-rfra-and-why-do-we-care

Eisgruber, C. L., & Sager, L. G. (2007).  Religious freedom and the constitution . Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Russo, C. J., Sage Publications., & Sage eReference (Online service). (2010).  Encyclopedia of law and higher education . Thousand Oaks, Calif: SAGE Publications.

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StudyBounty. (2023, September 15). Religious Freedoms versus Civil Liberties and Civil Rights.


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