Small Business Attorney Examines the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act

RFRA, Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Naperville Business Law AttorneyThe recent passage of the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana has dominated headlines across the country, igniting fierce debate and harsh words from across the political spectrum. Many of my clients have been wondering if Illinois has passed or would consider passing similar legislation and how such a law would affect their rights as business owners. A large number are surprised to learn that Illinois, in fact, did pass a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in 1998, and while similar in some ways to the Indiana law, also contains some distinct differences.

Supporters of Religious Freedom Restoration Acts insist that their purpose is to explicitly protect the rights of people and business owners from infringements upon their freedom of religion. Critics assert that most such legislation is little more than the approval of legally sanctioned discrimination. Regardless of one’s opinion on RFRAs, in general, the application of the laws in each state may appear drastically different in practice as time goes on.

Similarity to the Indiana RFRA

The RFRA passed recently in Indiana and the 1998 version passed in Illinois share similarities in their overall aim. Both measures prohibit governments from “burdening” a person’s free exercise of religion without a “compelling” and justifiable reason. Language in both the Indiana law and other federal statutes hold that a “person” may be a company, partnership, other for-profit business. In effect, the laws protect business owner and individuals from government-related activities that may infringe their religious rights.

Two Important Differences

Indiana’s RFRA contains language that states the government is not required to be a party in a situation which invokes the RFRA. While some circuit courts have already supported the right to invoke an RFRA in private suits, the new law is only the second in the country to include such language. Courts around the nation, thus far, have been split on whether RFRAs are applicable to lawsuits between private citizens. Clauses in the Illinois law suggest that RFRA protection may apply on a fairly limited basis in private party suits.

The other major difference expected to become apparent in the application of the laws is the existence in Illinois of much more stringent anti-discrimination statutes. Any action invoking the RFRA must be considered in light of laws which prohibit discrimination in the state based on factors including race, color, religion, sex, marital status, and sexual orientation, among others. Indiana state laws do not hold private citizens or companies to the same level of anti-discrimination standards, which has been the basis for much of the criticism related to the legislation.

Understand Your Legal Rights

As a business owner in Illinois, you are faced with dozens of difficult situations and decisions every day. New laws and regulations create new uncertainties and you must be prepared to deal with them. At the Gierach Law Firm, we are committed to helping business owners understand the law, ensuring that you and your company are in full compliance with all applicable statutes. If you have questions about how the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act may apply to you, contact an experienced Naperville business law attorney today.