On Friday, January 10, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization, joined in two “friend of the court” briefs filed with the United States Supreme Court in support of the constitutionality of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act [“RFRA”]. RFRA, which was signed into law in 1993, essentially requires that government agencies must demonstrate a compelling interest before a regulation or policy interferes with the practice of religion.
The Orthodox Union joined with a broad coalition of civil rights and religious organizations that came together as the “Coalition for the Free Exercise of Religion” to get RFRA passed. The Coalition brief argues that RFRA neither establishes religion in violation of the First Amendment, nor requires that government become improperly “entangled” with religion in evaluating the needs of religious citizens.
The second brief in which the Orthodox Union joined was filed by the National Jewish Commission On Law and Public Affairs and authored by noted constitutional attorney and IPA Executive Committee member Nathan Lewin. This brief was designed to provide the high court with the unique perspective of the Orthodox Jewish community on issues of religious accommodation at RFRA is targeted. The brief contends that RFRA is needed to “direct government officials to be mindful of the religious observances of those who are subject to [its] authority” and to provide “the national moral imperative of religious tolerance.”
“There have been many lower court challenges to RFRA since its passage,” said Nathan Diament, director of the Orthodox Union’s Institute for Public Affairs, “so we are pleased the Supreme Court is set to resolve the issue. We are confident,” continued Diament, “that the Court will find RFRA constitutional and we can get on with ensuring that it is complied with across the nation.