Grace Brethren pastor, Robert Soto, is featured on The Federalist website in a round-up story that features people and groups who have benefited from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. A portion of the story appears below. Click here for the complete post. (Soto is pastor of the Grace Brethren Church in McAllen, Tex.)
The federal government passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993. It was authored by Chuck Schumer, passed with nearly unanimous support from both parties, and signed by President Bill Clinton. The legislation was needed after a bad Supreme Court ruling delivered by Antonin Scalia that limited religious freedom for Native Americans who smoke peyote as part of their religion. A later Supreme Court ruling ruled that the RFRA didn’t apply to state or local governments. Twenty states passed RFRAs and another 13 have protections like the ones in RFRA.
And yet when Indiana passed the legislation last week, the media characterized it as nothing more than a bigoted anti-gay bill and celebrities and activists called for a boycott against the state. The media is highly uninformed about the topic and despite RFRAs being around since 1993, no one can provide any evidence to substantiate the outlandish claims made against them. In fact, RFRA simply allows religious people to challenge government activities that encroach on their beliefs. They have to show that the government action substantially burdens a religious belief that they sincerely hold. And if they prove all that, it falls to the government to show that the challenged action is justified as the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling governmental interest. Having a RFRA doesn’t mean that you know which side wins, it just sets the terms of the debate.
If it’s not some new-fangled invention designed to hurt gay people, what is it about? No better way to learn than by looking at some recent RFRA cases at the state and federal level.
If you oppose Religious Freedom Restoration Acts, these are the real people you are hurting.
1) Most recent RFRA winner: Lipan Apache religious leader Robert Soto
Just a few weeks ago, on March 10, the federal government returned the eagle feathers it had seized nine years prior from a Native American religious leader and famed feather dancer Robert Soto. He had appealed the seizure of the eagle feathers, for which he faced 15 years in a federal penitentiary and a $250,000 fine, on Religious Freedom Restoration Act grounds.
The feds had sent undercover agents to a powwow in 2006 to confiscate the feathers, which are central to Soto’s Native American faith. The federal government prohibits possession of eagle feathers without a permit and only grants permits to museums, scientists, zoos, farmers, large power companies and federally recognized tribes. Even though the Lipan Apaches are recognized by the State of Texas, historians and sociologists, they’re not recognized by the feds.
Here’s a video featuring Soto.
Click here for the complete post.