Alabama governor adds another layer of protection to religious freedom


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Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 25, 2023 / 13:30 pm (CNA).

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, a Republican, signed an executive order Friday to protect religious freedom in the state.

The executive order ensures the enforcement of the Alabama Religious Freedom Amendment.

Passed by the state Legislature in 1998, the amendment to the state constitution guarantees the freedom from government coercion in violation of one’s religion to all individuals and businesses holding state licenses as well as all state contractors, employees, and grant and benefits recipients.

“As I have promised, under my watch, our state government will always reflect the values of our people,” Ivey, who has served as governor since 2017, said. “Religious freedom is the cornerstone of the American way of life, and as governor, I will always protect the rights of Alabamians and ensure they are free to exercise their beliefs as provided in the Constitution.”

Donald Carson, communications director for the Diocese of Birmingham, applauded the governor’s action.

“Catholics in the Diocese of Birmingham, which covers central and northern Alabama, are blessed to live and work in this state with such strong affirmation of religious freedom,” Carson told CNA.

Religious Liberty in the States, a database on freedom of religion in the U.S. maintained by the Center for Religion, Culture, and Democracy, ranked Alabama as the 12th best for religious freedom in 2022. One of the determining factors in the organization’s measure was the existence of Alabama’s religious freedom amendment.

Twenty-three states have passed state religious freedom amendments since the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was found unconstitutional in application to states by a federal court in 1997.

According to Becket, a religious liberty law firm, state RFRAs “level the playing field in court for people of deeply held religious convictions.”

RFRAs are designed to protect all religious minorities, Becket states on its website. The act itself was originally created, Becket points out, after Oregon state denied unemployment benefits to Native American counselors who were fired for using peyote in their religious ceremonies.​​

On Oct. 15, 2019, a federal district court in Texas ruled that the “transgender mandate” in the Affordable Care Act violated the federal RFRA. In his decision, Judge Reed O’Connor said that providers and insurers’ refusal to perform or pay for transgender procedures was an exercise of their religious freedom.

And in a similar case, Franciscan Alliance v. Becerra, on Aug. 26, 2022, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a district court ruling that found the Department of Health and Human Services in violation of the RFRA. The decision protects the religious freedom of doctors and hospitals to care for patients in accordance with their professional judgment and religious beliefs.

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