The American Civil Liberties Union has formally reversed its support for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, signaling that the organization is no longer interested in mounting an ideologically consistent defense of all people of faith. It’s a disappointing retreat on principles for the ACLU, and the organization’s explanation suggests that a singular disdain for Christian belief is the reason.
Louise Melling, the ACLU’s deputy legal director, announced the change in policy in a Washington Post op-ed. Her article provides a useful history of RFRA, which became law in 1993—two years after the Supreme Court refused to let Native Americans smoke peyote as part of their religious practices. Popular sentiment disagreed with the Court, and Congress passed the bipartisan RFRA to safeguard the rights of religious minorities. The law has been used to defend Sikh men from having to shave their beards to serve in the U.S. Army—an outcome the ACLU supported, according to Melling.
So why has the ACLU suddenly decided that RFRA is no good? Melling explains:
In the Hobby Lobby case last year, a Supreme Court majority blessed the use of the RFRA by businesses to deny employees insurance coverage for contraception, a benefit guaranteed by law, if those businesses object on religious grounds and there is some other means of furthering the government’s interests. Religiously affiliated nonprofit organizations such as universities are taking the argument further. They invoke the RFRA to argue not only that they should not have to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives, but also that they should not even have to notify the government that they refuse to do so because, they maintain, notification would trigger the government to intervene to ensure coverage.