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Connecticut’s Governor Doesn’t Understand His Own State’s RFRA

Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy plans to ban travel to Indiana over that state’s religious freedom law. Nobody told Malloy about his own state’s RFRA.


In case you needed more proof that the recent backlash against religious freedom laws is grounded in pure ignorance, look no further than Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy. Malloy, a Democrat, just announced on Twitter that he plans to sign an executive order banning state travel to Indiana due to the midwestern state’s recently enacted Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

I don’t know how many staffers, lawyers, and advisers currently work for Malloy, but it’s a real shame that not a single one of them told the governor that Connecticut has had an expansive RFRA on the books for over two decades. That’s right: Connecticut passed its own RFRA law on June 29, 1993. You can read the law for yourself here. The inanity of Malloy’s move doesn’t stop there, though. What makes his grandstanding particularly absurd is the fact that Connecticut’s RFRA provides far greater religious liberty protections than Indiana’s or even the federal government’s.

If you dislike Indiana’s RFRA, then you should loathe Connecticut’s. The difference comes down to a single phrase: “substantially burden.”

Both the Indiana law and the federal law declare that the respective governments may not “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion[.]” In other words, the laws require the courts to analyze cases brought under these laws using the strict scrutiny standard. Under the Indiana and federal religious liberty laws, government can burden religious exercise, but it cannot substantially burden it. That’s a key distinction.

Connecticut’s law, however, is far more restrictive of government action and far more protective of religious freedoms. How? Because the Connecticut RFRA law states that government shall not “burden a person’s exercise of religion[.]” Note that the word “substantially” is not included in Connecticut’s law.

The effect of the absence of that single word is enormous. It states that Connecticut government may not burden the free exercise of religion in any way. That makes it far more protective of religious liberty than the Indiana law that has so outraged Connecticut’s governor.

If Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy wants to blatantly discriminate against states with religious liberty laws on the books, that’s his prerogative. But if he doesn’t want to look like a completely ignorant hypocrite who has no idea what he’s talking about, he should probably examine his own state’s laws first.

UPDATE: A number of commentators have suggested that none of this matters because Connecticut has laws banning discrimination based on sexual preference, while Indiana doesn’t. Unfortunately, these commentators do not have the mental wherewithal to grasp that that argument doesn’t undermine my point. It actually strengthens it.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that the “Indiana doesn’t ban discrimination” claim is true and that this distinction is what makes Indiana’s RFRA terrible and Connecticut’s RFRA perfectly acceptable. If that’s the case, then it’s literally impossible for Indiana’s new RFRA law to legalize discrimination based on sexual preference. Why? Because it’s allegedly already legal in Indiana. Furthermore, if anti-gay discrimination is what is truly animating those voicing opposition to RFRA, why on earth are they focusing on Indiana’s RFRA and not on enacting the anti-discrimination bans that are in force in states like Connecticut?

If I didn’t know better, I’d be left to assume that the voices agitating to repeal a 20-year-old legal framework that was not even remotely controversial until last week were more interested in outlawing religious liberty than they were in preventing discrimination.