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November / December 2004

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Religious Freedom Protection Act

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Religious Freedom Protection Act

§ 2402. Legislative findings

The General Assembly finds and declares as follows:

(1) Laws and governmental actions which are facially neutral toward religion, as well as laws and governmental actions intended to interfere with religious exercise, may have the effect of substantially burdening the free exercise of religion. However, neither State nor local government should substantially burden the free exercise of religion without compelling justification.
(2) The General Assembly intends that all laws which it has heretofore enacted or will hereafter enact and all ordinances and regulations which have been or will be adopted by political subdivisions or executive agencies shall be construed so as to avoid the imposition of substantial burdens upon the free exercise of religion without compelling justification.

§ 2403. Definitions

. . .

"Substantially burden." An agency action which does any of the following:

(1) Significantly constrains or inhibits conduct or expression mandated by a person's sincerely held religious beliefs.
(2) Significantly curtails a person's ability to express adherence to the person's religious faith.
(3) Denies a person a reasonable opportunity to engage in activities which are fundamental to the person's religion.
(4) Compels conduct or expression which violates a specific tenet of a person's religious faith.

§ 2404. Free exercise of religion protected

(a) General rule.—Except as provided in subsection (b), an agency shall not substantially burden a person's free exercise of religion, including any burden which results from a rule of general applicability.
(b) Exceptions.—An agency may substantially burden a person's free exercise of religion if the agency proves, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the burden is all of the following:
(1) In furtherance of a compelling interest of the agency.
(2) The least restrictive means of furthering the compelling interest.

§ 2406. Applicability

(a) General rule.—This act shall apply to any State or local law or ordinance and the implementation of that law or ordinance, whether statutory or otherwise and whether adopted or effective prior to or after the effective date of this act. Any law enacted by the General Assembly after the effective date of this act shall be subject to this act unless the General Assembly expressly excludes that law from this act by specific reference to this act. This act shall not apply to actions of the courts of this Commonwealth or to any rules of procedure or to common law adopted by the courts of this Commonwealth. . . .