By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator
A: They both supported Michael Farris’s efforts to pass the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the law at the heart of the recent Hobby Lobby case before the Supreme Court.
As applied to closely held corporations, the regulations promulgated by the Department of Health and Human Services requiring employers to provide their female employees with no-cost access to contraception violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
If you’ve been following the Hobby Lobby case, you probably have a strong opinion one way or another about whether the case was appropriately decided. You’ve also probably heard your “liberal” friends on Facebook mourning the fact that RFRA exists or your “conservative” friends trying to rub RFRA’s existence in their liberal friends’ faces by saying something like, “Bill Clinton signed it! Chuck Schumer signed it! Ha!”
But whatever side you take, and however liberal or conservative you might be, one salient fact stands out: a Democrat president might have signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law, but it was master-minded by none other than Michael Farris, president of HSLDA. My source for that claim? Michael Farris himself.
The day the Hobby Lobby decision came out, Farris wasted no time in claiming credit for it on his public Facebook page:
Relevant text is:
Hobby Lobby wins 5 to 4.!!This victory was based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. I was the person who named the Act and was the Chairman of the group of lawyers who drafted RFRA.
Really, Farris is being modest in just saying he named the RFRA and supervised the drafting of his text. The fact is, he also “organized a broad coalition of groups to support it” and worked to assuage “pro-life groups” who “feared that the RFRA would extend women’s legal rights to get abortions.” Farris’s work immediately payed off, as HSLDA was able to capitalize on the RFRA in homeschool legal cases and then-HSLDA attorney (now former) Jordan Lorence used it to champion explicit housing discrimination against an unmarried couple.
Historically speaking, it is ironic that the RFRA is now being championed by “conservatives” as a “conservative” piece of legislation. Almost 2 decades ago, libertarian groups were criticizing the RFRA, contending it was unconstitutional because it “exceeded Congress’ power to regulate state and local government” and was merely “Congress’s attempts to redefine constitutional rights via the enforcement clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.” (In fact, the Supreme Court partially agreed, striking down parts of the RFRA, with Justice John Paul Stevens declaring it was a “law respecting an establishment of religion’ that violates the First Amendment to the Constitution.”) Legal scholars similarly argued it “establishes an across-the-board scheme that deliberately singles out religious practices, en masse, as a congressionally favored class of activity.”
(Of course, if you are familiar with Michael Farris’s actual legal theories and not just his rhetoric, none of this should surprise you. Farris is a far cry from actual conservatism and a far cry from federalism. He is more of an opportunistic expansionist. This is evidenced no more humorously in the fact mentioned above: that the Supreme Court struck down part of a law Farris oversaw the drafting of because it was an unconstitutional expansion of the federal government’s powers over and against states’ rights. Nonetheless, HSLDA continues to praise the RFRA.)
But here’s the best part, for all you homeschool trivia buffs out there: After Farris got to name the RFRA and chair the group of lawyers who drafted it, and after it passed the House and Senate and was sent to then-President Bill Clinton to sign, Farris was unable to make the signing ceremony. So who did Michael Farris send in his stead, to be there on this momentous occasion and celebrate one of his crowning political victories?
Yeah, that Doug Phillips.
I’ll let HSLDA tell its own story, since they already did in the 1993 November/December Court Report:
Religious freedom regained significant protection on November 16, as President Clinton signed into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA). Home School Legal Defense Association president Michael Farris was one of the original drafters of the bill. HSLDA had worked diligently over a three year period for RRFA’s passage.
Among those in attendance at the ceremony for the signing of the RFRA in the White House Rose Garden, was Doug Phillips, Director for Government Affairs for the National Center for Home Education. Phillips attended in the place of Farris, who was out of town and unable to attend. After the signing, President Clinton spoke with Phillips and extended his gratitude for the role Farris played in the RFRA drafting and coalition-building process. “Tell Mike, I really appreciate the work he did drafting [the RFRA],” President Clinton told Phillips.
It’s interesting how all these so-called “fringe” individuals — individuals like IBLP’s Bill Gothard and Vision Forum’s Doug Phillips — keep popping up in cases of immense national import. Gothard directly influenced the ideology of the Hobby Lobby owners, the ideology that inspired Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. And Farris, Phillips, and HSLDA ensured the success of the RFRA, the law that ensured Hobby Lobby’s legal success. So fringe, you know?
You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.