The Corner

RFRA and Race

Critics of the Arizona bill — and of the lawsuits about the Obama administration’s contraceptive/abortifacient mandate — often use a racial analogy against the idea of religious exemptions. If you allow people to flout generally applicable laws on religious grounds, they say, why wouldn’t you have let people who believed in racial segregation for religious reasons — and there were such people — get out of the civil-rights laws? I have a bit more to say about this argument in the next issue of NR, but there’s an additional point I didn’t get into the article. Religious exemptions from federal law have been part of the legal landscape for decades. The Supreme Court insisted on them as a matter of constitutional law from 1963 to 1990, and Congress made them part of statutory law with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993. (As Rich Lowry notes below, the Arizona bill was largely based on the federal RFRA, the key difference being that the state bill made explicit a few points that were arguably implicit in the federal law; and the argument I’m concerned with here does not turn on that difference.)

In all this time, has anyone ever won a religious exemption from a law against racial discrimination? Has anyone even pursued a claim for one?

Update: Jim Copland reminds me that Bob Jones University did pursue such a claim, but the Supreme Court rebuffed it. That was at a time when the basic protection of a RFRA was part of constitutional law and not just statutory law.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

Most Popular

Sports

It’s Time for Colin Kaepernick to Move On

Colin Kaepernick. Remember him? Below-average quarterback. Above-average poseur. Not “activist,” not really. Activists actually say stuff. Kaepernick almost never says anything. He’s like the Queen or most popes — you have to read the deep-background musings of supposed members of his inner circle to get ... Read More
U.S.

What The 1619 Project Leaves Out

“The goal of The 1619 Project, a major initiative from The New York Times that this issue of the magazine inaugurates, is to reframe American history by considering what it would mean to regard 1619 as our nation’s birth year,” The New York Times Magazine editors declare. “Doing so requires us to place ... Read More
PC Culture

Courage Is the Cure for Political Correctness

This might come as some surprise to observers of our campus culture wars, but there was a time, not long ago, when the situation in American higher education was much worse. There a wave of vicious campus activism aimed at silencing heterodox speakers, and it was typically empowered by a comprehensive regime of ... Read More
Elections

Trump and the Black Vote

"Donald Trump is a racist, white supremacist, white nationalist. So are his supporters." Some version of that refrain is heard almost hourly somewhere in mainstream media. Democratic politicians seem to proclaim it more often than that. Listening only to the Left, you'd conclude that more than half a ... Read More
U.S.

The Age of Miscalculation

On August 7, 1998, more than 200 people were killed in terrorist attacks on U.S. embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya. Americans learned three names most of them never had heard before: Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden, and al-Qaeda. On August 20, 1998, President Bill Clinton ordered a ... Read More