William Galston

“Religious liberty belongs to no party, no ideology, no creed:  It is our common property and our shared inheritance,” said William Galston.  Galston, a political scientist and advisor to former-President Bill Clinton, was honored on May 30 at the National Religious Freedom Award Dinner in Washington, D.C.

Galston was instrumental in helping pass the Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed into law 20 years ago by President Bill Clinton.  The act prohibits the federal government from substantially burdening a person’s free exercise of religion unless doing so is necessary to further a compelling government interest and is in the least restrictive means possible.

Galston said President Clinton knew what he was doing when he pushed for and signed the act. He noted that the law passed the House and Senate by huge margins following a misguided Supreme Court decision that threatened religious liberty. That same Supreme Court also struck down most of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that Galston worked for and Clinton signed.

Religious freedom is one area where liberals and conservatives find common ground.  Galston cautioned, “Religious liberty must not be another weapon in or victim of the cultural battles that define and oftentimes disfigure our politics. It must become an isle of unity in a sea of perdition.”

In light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that struck most of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, eighteen states have passed their own state laws protecting religious freedom.  In 2013, the Arkansas Legislature almost passed a similar law.  Today, Arkansas ranks near the bottom when it comes to laws protecting religious liberty.