Bridge on State Enactment of Religious Freedom Restoration Act Laws

Last week, Oxford Journal of Church and State posted for advanced access Religious Freedom or Libertarianism: What Explains State Enactments of Religious Freedom Restoration Act Laws? by Dave Bridge (Baylor University).  An extract of the piece follows.

In 2002, officer Rex Shrum submitted his letter of resignation to the Coweta, Oklahoma, police department. Also a Church of Christ minister, Shrum quit the force after twelve years when his superiors would no longer accommodate his need to have Sunday mornings off. Invoking the Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act, Shrum sued, claiming that the city officials had denied him his right to free exercise. The jury sided with the minister, awarding Shrum a total of $235, 000 for religious freedom claims. Even though the Supreme Court had already struck down the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in City of Boerne, Texas v. Flores, Shrum had brought suit under Oklahoma’s state-level Religious Freedom Act. This essay looks at state-level RFRAs and assesses their determinants. What factors are associated with states that pass RFRAs? More importantly, what do these factors tell us about (1) broader trends in American politics and (2) the RFRAs themselves?

State RFRAs are significant because they occupy a unique place in American public policy and ideology. At the policy level, they provide concrete laws for the execution of the loftier ideal of free exercise. RFRAs give citizens a clear foundation for making free exercise violation claims against the state. Even though the US Constitution and state constitutions may have language promoting free exercise, state RFRAs provide a strong indicator that their respective states will take steps to ensure religious freedom. Practically, they provide easier access to the courts for free exercise claimants and lay out a stricter standard for state action. The impact of Oklahoma’s law, for example, can be seen above, as Shrum used the Oklahoma RFRA to pursue his case.