Michael Farris Admits RFRA’s Discriminatory Intent

Michael Farris on the Hannity Show, YouTube screenshot.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kathryn Brightbill’s blog The Life and Opinions of Kathryn Elizabeth, Person. It was originally published in April 2015.

Like a lot of other people, I’ve been following the controversy surrounding Indiana’s SB 101, their state level RFRA bill that’s designed to allow businesses to discriminate against LGBT people on religious grounds.

Indiana’s RFRA has been compared frequently to the federal RFRA, both by supporters of Indiana’s law who claim that it’s no different thanwhat President Clinton signed into law in 1993, and opponents who point out that it’s much broader than the federal RFRA. What most people don’t realize about RFRA, however, is that while it was a popular piece of legislation that passed with bipartisan support, the religious right had their fingerprints on it from the beginning and always intended it to be used for much broader purposes than most of the bill’s supporters realized.

The coalition that drafted the original RFRA was either chaired or co-chaired (alternate accounts on HSLDA’s website say both) by HSLDA founder and then-president Michael Farris. Farris was one of the drafters of the bill, and takes credit for organizing the broad coalition that supported its passage.

HSLDA’s magazine The Home School Court Report describes it thus:

“After the signing, President Clinton spoke with [HSLDA’s representative at the signing Doug] 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.”
(emphasis added)

At the time Clinton signed RFRA into law, the Court Report quoted HSLDA staff attorney Jordan Lorence as saying that,

“[A]s American culture and public policy grow more and more hostile to Biblical concepts and practices, the RFRA will help shield Christian families, and all other peoples of faith, from having to choose between surrendering their religious beliefs or suffering loss for standing true to their beliefs.”

My astute readers should be able to recognize that language as a culture war dog-whistle from a mile away. Indeed, Jordan Lorence now works for the Alliance Defending Freedom, where he’s spearheaded the string of cases from photographers, bakers, and florists all arguing that they have a religious freedom right to discriminate against LGBT people.

We don’t need to rely on dog-whistles, however. HSLDA has repeatedly stated that one of the purposes of the federal RFRA was to allow religious-based discrimination against LGBT people.

Describing what RFRA means to the average homeschooler:

“But consider what it means for religious people in other contexts: The government wants to say you can’t have a church policy that says you can only have male pastors. Or maybe your church doesn’t want to hire homosexuals. Or your support group doesn’t want to hire homosexuals. Then it would have an impact because the rights of organizations including churches are going to be judged on religious liberty principles alone.”
–Michael Farris, Marking the Milestones: The Good, the Bad, the Inspiring

Explaining why a proposed Religious Liberty Protection Act (RLPA) was an insufficient substitute for RFRA because it would not protect:

“Christian landlords who are told by local law that they may not “discriminate” against unmarried couples or homosexual couples in renting out an apartment in their home,” or,
“Small Christian-owned businesses that are forbidden by local law from firing employees for openly immoral behavior.”
–Home School Court Report: Religious Liberty Protection Act: Does the End Justify the Means, May/June 1998

That brings us to yesterday, when, writing specifically about the Indiana law and his intent in drafting the federal RFRA, Michael Farris posted the following to his Facebook page. (screenshotted because his posts have a way of disappearing after I blog about them).


Oh noes, how dare the homosexuals ask to be left alone! Look at them there eating crackers like they own the place, don’t they know they’re supposed to be cowering in a closet in fear of the cops busting in and hauling them off to jail?

When Michael Farris talks disparagingly about LGBT people asking to be left alone, he’s talking about LGBT people wanting the police to stop raiding gay bars and arresting everyone inside. About not wanting to be forced to endure chemical castration like Alan Turing or prison like Oscar Wilde. About wanting to walk around in public without fear of being beaten, tied to a fence and left for dead only to have your funeral picketed by people with “God Hates Fags” signs. About not wanting to be subjected to “corrective rape.”

That, Michael Farris, is what asking to be left alone means.

In that one line he trivializes centuries of indignities, abuses, and torture that no human being should have to endure. As if asking for even the most bare minimum of basic human rights is too much to ask of society.

And no, Michael Farris, it’s not about “demanding the right to punish anyone who refuses to join their celebration.” It’s asking for equal protection under law. One of the bedrock principles of American law, and protection enjoyed by all other American citizens under our civil rights laws.

But Michael Farris already knows that, that’s why nearly two decades ago, before any state had marriage equality, HSLDA specifically stated that RFRA was needed in order to overcome nondiscrimination laws.

The smoking gun, though, is in the second half of his post.


See that last paragraph? Read it again.

“The state and federal RFRA would not allow a state or local antidiscrimination law (e.g. a gay rights law) to be applied to a religious person or entity without prevailing over a very high legal standard.”

Saying that RFRA would “not allow a state or local antidiscrimination law … to be applied to a religious person or entity without prevailing over a very high legal standard,” is another way of saying that religious people and entities are allowed to discriminate. More specifically, to discriminate against LGBT people.

Cloak it in religious language all you want, but the religious freedom that RFRA is intended to protect is the freedom to discriminate. And not just the freedom to discriminate in baking wedding cakes, making floral arrangements, or taking photos either. As was made clear in the quotes above, that freedom to discriminate was always intended to extend to denying LGBT people a place to live and allowing businesses to fire them.

I don’t know how you can get any clearer. This is one of the drafters of the original federal RFRA flat out saying that RFRA had discriminatory intent.

Discrimination in the name of religion is still still discrimination and it’s still wrong.


My followup post, complete with video of Farris’ appearance on Hannity, can be found here.

Q: What Do Doug Phillips and Bill Clinton Have in Common? (Besides the Whole Preying-on-Women Thing.)

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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.

You’ve probably heard about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). It’s at the core of the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. Supreme Court case, which (on a 5-4 decision) held that,

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:

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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?

Doug Phillips.

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.