RFRA is nothing new and, at its inception, had nothing to do with LGBTQAI issues. The Federal RFRA (42 US Code Section 2000bb 1-4) signed by Bill Clinton in 1993, with wide bi-partisan support, was a response to Employment Division v. Smith (494 U.S. 872). The law was intended to hold government accountable by requiring compelling justification by the least restrictive means when governments seek to substantially burden religious exercise .
In Smith, plaintiffs filed a suit alleging Oregon Employment Division wrongfully denied them unemployment benefits. Alfred Smith and Galen Black, ingested peyote, a hallucinogenic drug, for sacramental purposes at a ceremony of their Native American Church and were subsequently terminated from their jobs at a private drug rehabilitation center for work-related misconduct. Ultimately, the case rested on the courts interpretation of the Free Excersise Clause. (Summary and audio of Justice Scalia's majority opinion)
Writing for the majority, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, found no violation of the free exercise clause exists when a states law, is otherwise constitutional, and neutral (not specifically directed at [a particular] religion). This case was a stark departure from precedents set in Sherbert (compelling interest standard) and Yoder (least restrictive means standard) (summary).
Following the Federal RFRA, City of Bourne v. Flores (73 F.3d 1352, reversed 1997) held that Congress exceeded their power under the Fourteenth Amendment, Section 5. Therefore, states were not compelled to rely on the Federal RFRA. Subsequently, many states enacted their own versions of RFRA (although a number of states had enacted versions prior to this decision).
So why all the outrage now? Hobby Lobby, Citizens United, widespread challenges to same-sex marriage, the recent flurry of law suits involving businesses attempting to deny services to people based on sexual orientation and most importantly the broad scope of Indiana's RFRA law. (see opinion article here) All of these things have culminated in the perfect storm.
Let the social justice and civil rights campaigns begin....kudos to all the individual and corporate allies in action taking a stand against potential threats to LGBTQAI civil rights...just to name a few
George Takei, Hillary Clinton, Audra McDonald, et al
The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)