Letter to House, Senate leadership on Religious Freedom Restoration Act

By Russell D. Moore
Jul 10, 2014

Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, sent a letter July 10 to House and Senate leadership urging them to uphold the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, without amendment or alteration.

Below is a text of the letter sent to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). Similar letters were sent to the following other House and Senate leaders: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Download a PDF of this letter on ERLC letterhead.

July 10, 2014

The Honorable John Boehner
Speaker
United States House of Representatives
H-232, The Capitol
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Mr. Speaker:

At the heart of several issues before the country right now is the question of religious liberty. In recent days, this question of our First Freedom came before the Supreme Court in the case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.

The court’s decision was a victory for religious freedom. Unfortunately, some who affirm the administration’s coercive abortifacient, contraceptive, and sterilization mandate—which remains largely intact—have come out in favor of either amending or repealing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA). I write to thank you for your past affirmation and defense of religious liberty and to encourage your continued support of RFRA, without amendment or alteration.

As you are aware, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) led RFRA to a bipartisan victory in the Senate (97-3). The House voted unanimously for its passage. And President Bill Clinton signed the bill into law. That ideologically and politically broad coalition recognized the value in preserving an inalienable right our founding fathers set forth to protect when they envisioned our country.

The act defends the religious freedom of all Americans and is a critical safeguard for minority faith communities who, prior to RFRA, were required to perpetually plead for statutory exemptions whenever Congress considered a new law. In protecting religious liberty for citizens of all faiths and of no faith, RFRA encourages a vibrant religious diversity and aids in preventing religious conflict.

Further, RFRA is a means of accountability for governmental officials who must defend any proposed restriction of religious liberty. Rather than automatically grant any complaint that may be brought forth by protected citizens, RFRA provides a method for courts to weigh religious liberty with governmental interests. Religious liberty is a gift from God, not a grant from government, and a fundamental pillar of the American experiment. Weakening RFRA jeopardizes the foundation upon which our country flourishes.

I am aware that legislative challenges to RFRA might focus attention on for-profit companies. Some argue that “for profit” organizations cannot exercise religion. Yet not even Justices Breyer and Kagan, dissenting in Hobby Lobby, made such claims.

The IRS code does not, and should not, provide a toggle switch by which the government decides who may exercise religion and who may not. As the court rightly affirmed, American citizens do not forfeit their First Amendment rights simply because they engage in commerce. For that reason, we are asking that you leave intact the provisions of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and resist all efforts to amend or repeal certain provisions of said legislation.

Southern Baptists will vigorously oppose any legislative efforts that attempt to grant or restrict the free exercise of religion based on a particular status in the tax code. We trust you agree with our position and ask your office for continued vigilance on behalf of robust religious liberty protections. If I can be of assistance on this issue, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely,

Russell D. Moore, Ph.D.

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