Where the ACLU Went Wrong on Religious Freedom

Where the ACLU Went Wrong on Religious Freedom
AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

“The Dred Scott of First Amendment Law.” Those jarring words were offered before Congress in 1993 to explain why there was such an urgent need for passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The speaker was then-ACLU President Nadine Strossen, and the focus of her ire was the Supreme Court's recently decided Employment Division v. Smith, the case that made RFRA so necessary.

The ACLU's support of RFRA placed it within the mainstream of liberal groups that led to the law's near unanimous passage. Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and then-Representative Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) sponsored RFRA. The Anti-Defamation League and People for the American Way supported it. Bill Clinton signed the law surrounded by a multi-faith coalition composed of many proud liberals. Religious freedom was a constitutional right firmly embraced by progressives.

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