Facts of the Case

Provided by Oyez

The Archbishop of San Antonio sued local zoning authorities for violating his rights under the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), by denying him a permit to expand his church in Boerne, Texas. Boerne's zoning authorities argued that the Archbishop's church was located in a historic preservation district governed by an ordinance forbidding new construction, and that the RFRA was unconstitutional insofar as it sought to override this local preservation ordinance. On appeal from the Fifth Circuit's reversal of a District Court's finding against Archbishop Flores, the Court granted Boerne's request for certiorari.


  1. Did Congress exceed its Fourteenth Amendment enforcement powers by enacting the RFRA which, in part, subjected local ordinances to federal regulation?


  1. Yes. Under the RFRA, the government is prohibited from "substantially burden[ing]" religion's free exercise unless it must do so to further a compelling government interest, and, even then, it may only impose the least restrictive burden. The Court held that while Congress may enact such legislation as the RFRA, in an attempt to prevent the abuse of religious freedoms, it may not determine the manner in which states enforce the substance of its legislative restrictions. This, the Court added, is precisely what the RFRA does by overly restricting the states' freedom to enforce its spirit in a manner which they deem most appropriate. With respect to this case, specifically, there was no evidence to suggest that Boerne's historic preservation ordinance favored one religion over another, or that it was based on animus or hostility for free religious exercise.