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Almost every member of Congress voted to approve the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA), a bill endorsed by an unprecedented coalition of dozens of religious and civil rights organizations spanning the political and ideological spectrum. President Clinton quipped at the signing ceremony that perhaps only divine intervention could explain such an unusual meeting of the minds: the establishment of “new trust” across otherwise irreconcilable “ideological and religious lines,” he remarked, “shows . . . that the power of God is such that, even in the legislative process, miracles can happen.”

The RFRA consensus was especially “miraculous” because the legislation addressed a deeply divisive question: whether and under what circumstances religious objectors should be exempt from generally applicable laws. RFRA’s supporters, both within and outside Congress, would surely have had sharp disagreements about many specific claims for religious exemptions to particular laws. Yet they coalesced around RFRA, which circumvented such disagreements at the retail level by codifying a “cross-cutting” statutory standard that judges would be required to apply to an undifferentiated and unknown array of future claims for exemptions to every generally applicable law in the land.

Publication Citation

125 Yale L.J. Forum 416 (2016)