Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. The law provided a “strict scrutiny” standard of evaluation for whether a state law is narrowly tailored enough to effectively solve a compelling governmental purpose such that it can burden or outweigh the free exercise of religion. The Act required the court not to consider the intent behind the state regulation in its strict evaluation.
In this instant case, Flores applied for a building permit to expand his church. However, the building was located within a historic district as classified by the city. The city zoning board denied the expansion due to their policy against expansion within historic districts. Flores contended that his congregation was growing and the ordinance was a law which should be evaluated based on the RFRA.
Whether the RFRA is unconstitutional based on the 14th amendment, such that the local ordinance cannot be cited as the basis for invalidating the relevant city ordinance.
Yes, RFRA is unconstitutional. Congress has sought to define what a constitutional right is. In passing this legislation, Congress has redefined what the freedom of religion is. There is a very particular constitutional amendment process for doing this. Congress has not undertaken such a process. Only the supreme court has the power to define “substantive rights guaranteed by the fourteenth amendment.”
The court specifically stated that the role of Congress is passing legislation is to enact “remedial” legislation to guarantee rights that are not specifically aligned with the court’s defined rights. In so doing, the legislature may do so only to “prevent, deter, or correct” the abrogation of such rights.