Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”) was originally passed by Congress in 1993.  The vote in both the Senate and the House of Representatives was nearly unanimous, with both Democrats and Republicans voting to pass the measure.  RFRA was signed into law by then President Bill Clinton.  All four members of Hawaii’s congressional delegation voted to pass RFRA – this included the late Senator Daniel Inouye, and our current governor Neil Abercrombie.

In its Wisconsin v. Yoder, the Supreme Court set a standard for evaluating when government should be allowed to interfere or burden the free exercise of religion.  This ensured that government had to have a “compelling interest” to interfere with the free exercise of religion.  While RFRA made this compelling interest test the standard for the federal government, it was found that could not be applied to state laws.