Hobby Lobby Flowcharts!Posted: July 3, 2014
In viewing the flowcharts, it is important to avoid a common misconception about the case. Hobby Lobby did NOT assert a claim under the First Amendment. Rather, it brought its claim under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, otherwise known as RFRA.
Congress enacted RFRA in response to the Supreme Court’s 1990 decision in Employment Division v. Smith, which fundamentally altered the First Amendment analysis of laws of general applicability (like criminal laws banning the possession and use of certain drugs), which imposed an incidental burden on an individual’s exercise of his religion (e.g., in Smith, certain Native American’s use of peyote for sacramental purposes).
Before Smith, the Supreme Court had required states seeking to enforce such laws against a religious objector to demonstrate a compelling state interest to justify the burden on religious exercise. The Supreme Court in Smith overruled several cases and established a new standard: as long as the law of general applicability is otherwise constitutional, any incidental effect on religious practices is constitutionally acceptable. Congress then passed RFRA to effectively impose on itself the higher burden that had existed before Smith. RFRA provides that the “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.” It then provides an exception to that rule if two conditions are met: 1) the burden must be necessary to further a “compelling government interest,” and 2) the law imposing the burden must be the “least restrictive way” in which to further the government interest.
The flowcharts show how a generic RFRA claim is analyzed and how the majority and main dissenting justices decided the issues in the case.