Brief Fact Summary.
The Catholic Archbishop of San Antonio sued local zoning authorities for violating his rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993, after they denied him a permit to expand his church in Boerne, Texas.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
The test for deciding whether Congress has exceeded its Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment‘s powers is the “congruence and proportionality” test.
Congress' power under Â§ 5 extends only to enforcing the provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment.View Full Point of Law
Flores, the Catholic Archbishop of San Antonio, applied for a building permit to enlarge the 1923 mission-style St. Peter’s Church in Boerne, Texas, which was originally built by German residents. The building was located in a historic district and considered a contributing property. Local zoning authorities denied the permit, citing an ordinance governing additions and new construction in a historic district.
Archbishop Flores brought suit, challenging the ruling under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993. He argued that the Boerne, Texas congregation had outgrown the existing structure, rendering the ruling a substantial burden on the free exercise of religion without a compelling state interest.
Did Congress exceed its Fourteenth Amendment enforcement powers (under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment) by enacting the RFRA which in part subjected local ordinances to federal regulation?
Yes, Congress exceeded its Fourteenth Amendment enforcement powers (under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment) by enacting the RFRA which in part subjected local ordinances to federal regulation.
RFRA is a law respecting an establishment of religion that violates the First Amendment.
Under the RFRA, the government is prohibited from substantially burdening religion’s free exercise unless it must do so to further a compelling government interest. Even then, it may only impose the least restrictive burden. The Court held that while Congress may enact such preventive legislation as the RFRA in an attempt to prevent abuse of religious freedoms, there must be a congruence between the means used and the ends to be achieved.
Here, RFRA‘s legislative record lacks examples of modern instances of generally applicable laws passed because of religious bigotry. Rather, the emphasis of the hearings was on laws of general applicability which place incidental burdens on religion. Thus, the stringent test demanded by RFRA of state laws reflects a lack of proportionality between the means adopted and the compelling governmental end to be achieved and RFRA is not a proper exercise of Congress’ power.