In 2021, about 6% of the American population identified as a religion other than Christian. This may seem small compared to the 63% who identify as Christian and the 29% who identify as non-religious, but it still represents almost 20 million people living in the United States right now. These individuals are often overlooked when it comes to fair protections for religious expressions.
The federal government’s ban on owning eagle feathers, despite their cultural and religious significance to many Native American tribes, is a great example of this. Another federal example was the U.S. military’s ban on unshorn hair, beard and turban which forced devout religious groups like Sikhs to choose between following their religion or serving their country in the military.
In 1993, the federal government passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in order to protect religious expression at the federal level and give workers the right to sue for reasonable accommodations when a law or policy conflicts with their religious expression at work. This was a big step forward for protecting religious expression at work and it is fairly simple in how it works:
Since the RFRA passed in 1993, 24 states have passed RFRA laws. This is a great step forward, but still doesn’t go far enough to protect religious expression from laws and policies that undermine it. More states need to adopt state-level RFRAs to require that laws, rules, policies and any other government actions satisfy strict judicial scrutiny before they stop someone from practicing their faith.