Written by Don Byrd

A Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) bill introduced in the Iowa legislature will apparently not move to the full Senate for consideration, after it was sent back to committee earlier this week. Last month, the Local Government Committee voted to send the legislation forward, but it was sent back by the Majority Leader instead of being placed on the calendar for debate. According to the Des Moines Register report, this likely means a legislative deadline will pass without the bill moving forward, effectively ending its chances for passage this legislative session.

Here’s more from the report:

Sen. Dennis Guth, R-Klemme, who sponsored the bill, told the Des Moines Register Thursday he hoped to explore other options in an effort to revive the legislation this session. He promised to introduce it in future sessions if it can’t be passed this year.

But other lawmakers said the bill lacks enough support — even within the Senate Republican Caucus — for it to win approval this year. A companion bill was introduced in the GOP-led Iowa House this session, but it failed to even receive a subcommittee hearing.

Guth said his goal was to reverse the direction of the courts in the way that they interpret the free exercise of religion.

RFRA is a federal law that prohibits the government from imposing a substantial burden on a person’s religious exercise unless it is necessary to achieve a compelling government interest. It is not a trump card that favors either government regulation or religious objectors but is instead a framework for adjudicating such disputes that takes into account the interests on both sides. Many states have enacted similar legislation, but that trend has slowed in recent years.

As I pointed out in an earlier post, the proposal in Iowa is similar to but does not precisely track the federal RFRA. Those details can be important. The federal RFRA achieves a careful balance between the interests at stake.

For more on RFRA, see the Baptist Joint Committee’s RFRA Resource page.