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Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993

16 November 1993
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The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 was introduced by Congressman Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on March 11, 1993. A companion bill was introduced in the Senate by Ted Kennedy (D-MA) the same day. A unanimous U.S. House and a nearly unanimous U.S. Senate—three senators voted against passage—passed the bill, and President Bill Clinton signed it into law. 
This law reinstated the Sherbert Test, which was set forth by Sherbert v. Verner, and Wisconsin v. Yoder, mandating that strict scrutiny be used when determining whether the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, guaranteeing religious freedom, has been violated. In the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Congress states in its findings that a religiously neutral law can burden a religion just as much as one that was intended to interfere with religion; therefore the Act states that the “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.”

H.R.1308One Hundred Third Congress

of the
United States of America


Begun and held at the City of Washington on Tuesday,
the fifth day of January, one thousand nine hundred and ninety-three

An Act

To protect the free exercise of religion.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the
United States of America in Congress assembled,


This Act may be cited as the ``Religious Freedom Restoration Act of


(a) Findings.--The Congress finds that--
(1) the framers of the Constitution, recognizing free exercise
of religion as an unalienable right, secured its protection in the
First Amendment to the Constitution;
(2) laws ``neutral'' toward religion may burden religious
exercise as surely as laws intended to interfere with religious
(3) governments should not substantially burden religious
exercise without compelling justification;
(4) in Employment Division v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990) the
Supreme Court virtually eliminated the requirement that the
government justify burdens on religious exercise imposed by laws
neutral toward religion; and
(5) the compelling interest test as set forth in prior Federal
court rulings is a workable test for striking sensible balances
between religious liberty and competing prior governmental
(b) Purposes.--The purposes of this Act are--
(1) to restore the compelling interest test as set forth in
Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398 (1963) and Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406
U.S. 205 (1972) and to guarantee its application in all cases where
free exercise of religion is substantially burdened; and
(2) to provide a claim or defense to persons whose religious
exercise is substantially burdened by government.


(a) In General.--Government shall not substantially burden a
person's exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of
general applicability, except as provided in subsection (b).
(b) Exception.--Government may substantially burden a person's
exercise of religion only if it demonstrates that application of the
burden to the person--
(1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and
(2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling
governmental interest.
(c) Judicial Relief.--A person whose religious exercise has been
burdened in violation of this section may assert that violation as a
claim or defense in a judicial proceeding and obtain appropriate relief
against a government. Standing to assert a claim or defense under this
section shall be governed by the general rules of standing under article
III of the Constitution.


(a) Judicial Proceedings.--Section 722 of the Revised Statutes (42
U.S.C. 1988) is amended by inserting ``the Religious Freedom Restoration
Act of 1993,'' before ``or title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964''.
(b) Administrative Proceedings.--Section 504(b)(1)(C) of title 5,
United States Code, is amended--
(1) by striking ``and'' at the end of clause (ii);
(2) by striking the semicolon at the end of clause (iii) and
inserting ``, and''; and
(3) by inserting ``(iv) the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of
1993;'' after clause (iii).


As used in this Act--
(1) the term ``government'' includes a branch, department,
agency, instrumentality, and official (or other person acting under
color of law) of the United States, a State, or a subdivision of a
(2) the term ``State'' includes the District of Columbia, the
Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and each territory and possession of
the United States;
(3) the term ``demonstrates'' means meets the burdens of going
forward with the evidence and of persuasion; and
(4) the term ``exercise of religion'' means the exercise of
religion under the First Amendment to the Constitution.


(a) In General.--This Act applies to all Federal and State law, and
the implementation of that law, whether statutory or otherwise, and
whether adopted before or after the enactment of this Act.
(b) Rule of Construction.--Federal statutory law adopted after the
date of the enactment of this Act is subject to this Act unless such law
explicitly excludes such application by reference to this Act.
(c) Religious Belief Unaffected.--Nothing in this Act shall be
construed to authorize any government to burden any religious belief.


Nothing in this Act shall be construed to affect, interpret, or in
any way address that portion of the First Amendment prohibiting laws
respecting the establishment of religion (referred to in this section as
the ``Establishment Clause''). Granting government funding, benefits, or
exemptions, to the extent permissible under the Establishment Clause,
shall not constitute a violation of this Act. As used in this section,
the term ``granting'', used with respect to government funding,
benefits, or exemptions, does not include the denial of government
funding, benefits, or exemptions.

Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Vice President of the United States and
President of the Senate.