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City of Boerne v. Flores

Citation. 521 U.S. 507, 117 S.Ct. 2157, 138 L.Ed2d 624 (1997).
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Citation. 521 U.S. 507, 117 S.Ct. 2157, 138 L.Ed2d 624 (1997).

Brief Fact Summary.

Plaintiff was denied a building permit for a church and filed suit, arguing the denial was a violation of RFRA.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

RFRA is unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment. Remedial or prophylactic legislation must show both congruence and proportionality.


Defendant’s city council had an ordinance designed to protect historic landmarks and buildings in a historic district. Plaintiff’s application to alter and enlarge the church was denied because of said ordinance. Plaintiff filed suit, arguing that the denial was a violation of its rights under RFRA.


Whether RFRA is constitutional under the 14th Amendment.


No. RFRA is not constitutional under the 14th Amendment.


Justice O’Connor

I agree with the majority with the exception of one issue. Smith was decided wrongly and it should not be used as a yardstick for measuring the constitutionality of RFRA.

Justice Souter

In order to provide full adversarial consideration, this case should be set down for reargument so we can reexamine the issues.


Justice Stevens

RFRA gives a federal statutory entitlement to an exemption from a generally applicable, neutral civil law. This constitutes violation under the First Amendment.


The 14th Amendment is broad but not unlimited. Congress has the power to enforce but not the power to determine what constitutes a constitutional violation. Rather, the nature of the 14th Amendment is remedial.

Applied here, RFRA is overly burdensome on the states. There are no compelling instances of religious discrimination that compel such a measure. It is outside the scope of congressional power. Judgement reversed.

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