The 2016 Election: Know the facts about Religious Freedom Restoration Acts


The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was a federal law enacted in 1993 that "reestablished a balancing test for courts to apply in religious liberty cases" (Weekly Standard). Citizens were given the opportunity again to use their religious beliefs in legal disputes.

In 1997, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal version of the RFRA could not be applied against state or local laws, thus prompting several states to enact their own RFRAs. Currently, 31 states have RFRAs or RFRA-like protections.

In recent years, some people have become concerned that business owners (for example) will use a RFRA as a means to exempt themselves from nondiscrimination laws that would protect LGBT customers from exlusion or harrassment. In November 2015, a bill was introduced in Indiana that would exercise anti-discrimination protections for LGBT individuals while allowing for religious exemption in some cases.

Best practices for reporters

Tell the story of everyday LGBT people of faith and their families. LGBT people live rich and complex lives, and reporting on them should reflect that reality. Ask for personal stories about community activities, faith involvement, and organizational membership. Ask about their families—both their families of origin, and the families they have created. They can also discuss both the joys and challenges of being both LGBT and a person of faith.

Pitfalls to avoid

Do not inherently assume religion and the LGBT community are in opposition. The two are not mutually exclusive, and there are plenty of practicing LGBT people of faith in the United Sates and around the world.

Avoid speaking only to faith-based anti-LGBT activists about LGBT people, but rather seek the perspective of LGBT people of faith. It is hard to hate somebody when you know their story. When the media acts as a neutral conduit of people’s stories, cultural acceptance becomes much more attainable.

Resources for journalists


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