Podcast: The constitutional debate over state RFRA laws

The debate over state laws that guarantee religious rights has made national headlines in recent days, as two such laws are in limbo after concerns surfaced about language that could discriminate against gays.


Gedicks, Rosen, Walsh at recent event

Indiana Governor Mike Pence and Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson have asked lawmakers to re-evaluate laws recently passed in their states that added extra language to the federal version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (or RFRA).

While much of this national discussion has focused on politics, our We The People podcast series is concerned about constitutional issues. And in this podcast, we are going to break down the origins of these RFRA laws, their history in the Supreme Court, and how the current laws address core First Amendment religious and personal rights.

The Indiana and Arkansas state RFRA laws, unlike many of the other 18 state RFRA laws, contain language about the ability of corporations to sue over religious liberty issues, and the ability of people to sue each other in conflicts that involve religious freedoms and discrimination claims.

Parts of this debate aren’t new, as one key Supreme Court ruling goes back to 1963. But the context of the debate has changed in recent years, as the courts and society weigh changing opinions about religious rights, same-same marriage, and the jurisdiction of federal and state laws.

Joining us to talk about this complex debate are two of the leading experts on such matters – who recently also joined us in Washington, D.C. for our first live National Constitution Center road show debate about the Hobby Lobby decision.

Frederick Mark Gedicks is the Guy Anderson Chair at Brigham Young University Law School. Professor Gedicks is widely published on law and religion, constitutional law, and constitutional interpretation, and his current research is focused on legal issues and problems posed by federal and state religious accommodation statutes.

Kevin Walsh is a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law. Professor Walsh’s scholarship focuses on doctrines that define the scope of federal judicial power, and he also clerked for Associate Justice Antonin Scalia of the Supreme Court of the United States.

To listen to the full podcast, use the audio player below or click on the following link: Download this episode (right click and save)

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