Saying he wants to protect the “right to freely exercise their religion,” Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte signed a bill into law Thursday that prohibits the government from “burdening” an individual’s religious liberty and gives citizens the right to sue if they believe their rights have been infringed.
The new law, known as the “Montana Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” was opposed by some LGBT activists and groups, although the text of the law does not mention any specific issues.
The new law says the state “may not substantially burden a person’s right to the exercise of religion” unless two things can be demonstrated: 1) the state’s action is essential to “further a compelling governmental interest,” and, 2) the action is the “least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”
The law gives individuals the right to file a lawsuit “regardless of whether the state of Montana or one of its political subdivisions is a party to the proceeding.” Legal relief can include damages and attorney fees, the law says.
The bill’s legislative findings say religious liberty is a “fundamental right.” Prior to a 1990 Supreme Court ruling, laws “burdening exercise of religion had to be justified by a compelling governmental interest,” the findings say.
“To protect Montanans’ right to freely exercise their religion, I was proud to sign the Religious Freedom Restoration Act today,” Gianforte, a Republican, tweeted.
Shawn Reagor, director of Equality and Economic Justice with the Montana Human Rights Network, told the Associated Press the law “allows individuals to turn the shield of religious freedom we all hold dear into a weapon to attack LGBTQ and Indigenous Montanans.”