Religious Freedom Restoration Act


The Religious Freedom Reformation Act (RFRA), passed in 1993 by an overwhelming bipartisan majority in Congress and signed by President Clinton, enforces the First Amendment's protection of religious freedom from government interference.

The law provides for tests to determine whether or not to allow a government action that substantially burdens someone's religious freedom:

1. The government must have a compelling interest at stake.

2. Even with a compelling interest, the government must pursue the least restrictive way to accomplish its goal.

RFRA has played a key role in a number of religious freedom cases, including Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, in which the U.S. Supreme Court applied the law to protect a family business from being forced to participate in an Obamacare contraceptives mandate that violated their conscience rights.


In General.--Government shall not substantially burden a person's exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, except as provided in subsection (b). (b) Exception.--Government may substantially burden a person's exercise of religion only if it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person--
(1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and
(2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.

  • What is RFRA? - Becket

    What (RFRA) basically says is that the Government should be held to a very high level of proof before it interferes with someone’s free exercise of religion. … We believe strongly that we can never … be too vigilant in this work. - PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON

  • 5 facts about RFRA - Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

    The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) is a federal law passed in 1993 that is intended to prevent other federal laws from substantially burdening a person's free exercise of religion.

  • How RFRA Fosters Peaceful Pluralism - Heritage Foundation

    It has been 25 years since Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) with near unanimous support.

  • What is What is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act?? - Home School Legal Defense Association

    RFRA still applies to federal actions involving religious practice. In the 1997 Supreme Court case of City of Boerne v. Flores 521 U.S. 507 (1997), the Court struck down the law as it applied to the states, saying that Congress cannot require states to use the compelling interest test in religious freedom cases.

  • How RFRA Benefits All - Christian Legal Society

    In 1990, the Supreme Court greatly weakened the First Amendment’s protection of religious liberty. In 1993, Congress restored Americans’ religious freedom by enacting RFRA.

  • The Equality Act vs. RFRA - Breakpoint Podcast

    RFRA still applies to federal actions involving religious practice. In the 1997 Supreme Court case of City of Boerne v. Flores 521 U.S. 507 (1997), the Court struck down the law as it applied to the states, saying that Congress cannot require states to use the compelling interest test in religious freedom cases.

Title VII - Civil Rights Act


(j) The term “religion” includes all aspects of religious observance and practice, as well as belief, unless an employer demonstrates that he is unable to reasonably accommodate to an employee’s or prospective employee’s religious observance or practice without undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business.

It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer -
(1) to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against
any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of
employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin;

Among other applications, Title VII impacts the ability of religious organizations to retain their religious values in hiring practices.

The Act also has featured prominently in recent court cases over the definition of "sex discrimination."

  • Harris Vs. EEOC

    A recent Supreme Court case, Harris v. EEOC, examines whether or not the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission may expand the biological understanding of "sex discrimination" to include gender identity and to penalize an employer on that basis.

Federal Conscience Laws Protecting Health Professionals

  • The Church Amendments

    The conscience provisions contained in 42 U.S.C. § 300a-7 et seq. - PDF, collectively known as the “Church Amendments,” were enacted in the 1970s to protect the conscience rights of individuals and entities that object to performing or assisting in the performance of abortion or sterilization procedures if doing so would be contrary to the provider’s religious beliefs or moral convictions. This provision also extends protections to personnel decisions and prohibits any entity that receives a grant, contract, loan, or loan guarantee under certain Department-implemented statutes from discriminating against any physician or other health care personnel in employment because the individual either performed, or refused to perform an abortion if doing so would be contrary to the individual’s religious beliefs or moral convictions.

  • Public Health Service Act § 245

    Enacted in 1996, section 245, contained in 42 U.S.C. § 238n - PDF, prohibits the federal government and any state or local government receiving federal financial assistance from discriminating against any health care entity on the basis that the entity: 1) refuses to undergo training in the performance of induced abortions, to require or provide such training, to perform such abortions, or to provide referrals for such training or such abortions; 2) refuses to make arrangements for such activities; or 3) attends (or attended) a post-graduate physician training program, or any other program of training in the health professions, that does not (or did not) perform induced abortions or require, provide, or refer for training in the performance of induced abortions, or make arrangements for the provision of such training.

  • The Weldon Amendment

    The Weldon Amendment - PDF was originally passed as part of the HHS appropriation and has been readopted (or incorporated by reference) in each subsequent HHS appropriations act since 2005. It provides that “[n]one of the funds made available in this Act [making appropriations for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education] may be made available to a Federal agency or program, or to a state or local government, if such agency, program, or government subjects any institutional or individual health care entity to discrimination on the basis that the health care entity does not provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.” It also defines “health care entity” to include “an individual physician or other health care professional, a hospital, a provider-sponsored organization, a health maintenance organization, a health insurance plan, or any other kind of health care facility, organization, or plan.”

  • The Affordable Care Act

    The Affordable Care Act (Pub. L. No. 111-148 as amended by Pub. L. No. 111-152) includes new health care provider conscience protections within the health insurance Exchange program. Section 1303(b)(4) of the Act provides that “No qualified health plan offered through an Exchange may discriminate against any individual health care provider or health care facility because of its unwillingness to provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.” A recent Executive Order affirms that under the Affordable Care Act, longstanding federal health care provider conscience laws remain intact, and new protections prohibit discrimination against health care facilities and health care providers based on their unwillingness to provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions. Executive Order 13535, “Ensuring Enforcement and Implementation of Abortion Restrictions in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” (March 24, 2010).

    Additionally, Section 1553 of the Affordable Care Act (42 USC § 18113) - PDF incudes conscience protections regarding assisted suicide. “The Federal Government, and any State or local government or health care provider that receives Federal financial assistance under this Act (or under an amendment made by this Act) or any health plan created under this Act (or under an amendment made by this Act), may not subject an individual or institutional health care entity to discrimination on the basis that the entity does not provide any health care item or service furnished for the purpose of causing, or for the purpose of assisting in causing, the death of any individual, such as by assisted suicide, euthanasia, or mercy killing.”

Enforcing the Law: HHS Conscience and Religious Freedom Division

In January 2018, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the formation of a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division in the HHS Office for Civil Rights.

Law Resources - HHS Office of Civil Rights

  • Regulation for the Enforcement of Federal Health Care Professional Conscience Protection Laws


  • Your Rights Under the Federal Health Care Professional Conscience Protection Laws

    The Church Amendments, Section 245 of the Public Health Service Act, and the Weldon Amendment, are collectively known as the “Federal Health Care Provider Conscience Protection Laws.”

  • Enforcement of the Federal Health Care Professional Conscience Protection Laws

    The mission of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is to enhance the health and well-being of Americans by providing for effective health and human services and by fostering sound, sustained advances in the sciences underlying medicine, public health, and social services.

Have You Experienced Discrimination Over Conscience or Religious Freedom Issues?

How to File a Conscience Complaint

Perhaps as a result of conscience or relgious faith issues, you were:

  • fired;

  • pressured to participate in a conscientiously objectionable action or referral;

  • denied privileges;

  • denied admission to an educational or training program;

  • denied tenure;

  • penalized, pressured or subjected to any other form of discrimination based on your conscience and religious convictions.

Filing a complaint is simple and straightforward: You simply relate your story of what happened--who, what, when, where. You can file a complaint with the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights--online or via mail, fax, or e-mail. Even if your story occurred decades ago, you can still report it, since investigating conscience discrimination cases is not legally constrained by a lapse of time.


Christian Medical & Dental Associations® works with a number of legal firms that specialize in cases of freedom of faith, conscience and speech. These firms typically provide services to clients free of charge.