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Groups Ask Obama: Fix Religious Freedom Act

Groups Ask Obama: Fix Religious Freedom Act

More than 100 civil rights, LGBT and religious organizations, unions, and other groups are requesting a huge redefinition of how the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is interpreted.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the Anti-Defamation League, Human Rights Campaign, NAACP, Planned Parenthood, and 125 more cosigned a letter that landed on President Obama’s desk today, as first reported by BuzzFeed.

The groups asking the president to direct the Department of Justice to restore the original interpretation of RFRA; the interpretation changed when the Bush administration’s Office of Legal Counsel issued a memo in 2007.

Those lawyers issued an opinion that RFRA gave religious organizations seeking federal grants a free pass so that they were exempt from nondiscrimination laws in hiring.

In their letter to Obama, the groups argue that the opinion “relies on flawed legal analysis” that RFRA “provides a blanket override of a statutory non-discrimination provision,” according to BuzzFeed.

“RFRA was intended to provide protection for free exercise rights, applying strict scrutiny, on a case-by-case basis, to federal laws that substantially burden religious exercise. RFRA was not intended to create blanket exemptions to laws that protect against discrimination.

“Yet, in contrast to this, the OLC Memo relies on flawed legal analysis and wrongly asserts that RFRA is 'reasonably construed to require' a federal agency to categorically exempt a religiously affiliated organization from a grant program’s explicit statutory non-discrimination provision, thus permitting the grantee to discriminate in hiring with taxpayer funds without regard to the government’s compelling interest in prohibiting such discrimination.”

This effort to change that interpretation dates back to when Obama took office, but this is the first time that the groups have sent their letter directly to the president.

Read the full letter here. 

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