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As Trump prepares to sign executive order, here’s a history of ‘religious freedom’ laws

WASHINGTON – With President Trump in the White House, religious conservatives hope he will follow through on a campaign promise to make his “first priority” protecting religious liberty.

They’re gunning for him to sign an executive order that builds on a 1993 law protecting religious freedom. That law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, was enacted in response to a Supreme Court ruling on the First Amendment’s guarantee of the free exercise of religion. Lawmakers passed it to restore a requirement for the government to prove a compelling interest for any law that violates someone’s religious belief.

The Supreme Court has said the law can’t be applied to states, but is valid at the federal level, prompting many states to enact their own versions.

With a new executive order reported to come as early as Thursday, civil liberties advocates are already bracing for a fight. They are concerned the White House will broaden application of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act so people’s religious concerns will always outweigh the government’s interest in preventing discrimination.

They argue that could lead to a broad license to discriminate against gays and religious minorities, and would allow employers to deny birth control services in the health care plans offered to workers.

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