Matt Sharp, senior counsel for the legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, said the law will not always vindicate religious freedom claims; rather, he said, it provides people with a legal recourse when they believe their rights have been violated by the state.
“Citizens should not be left defenseless when their government attempts to burden their ability to live and worship according to their faith,” Sharp stated on Thursday. He added that the law “provides a sensible balancing test for courts to use when reviewing government policies that infringe upon the religious freedom rights of Montanans.”
“The law doesn’t automatically decide who will win every disagreement, but it does ensure that every Montanan—regardless of belief system or political power—receives a fair hearing when government action forces a person to violate his or her religious beliefs,” he said.
According to Montana’s new law, a state action cannot “substantially burden a person's right to the exercise of religion” unless it meets two qualifications. In these cases, the state must prove that its action “is essential to further a compelling governmental interest,” and is also “the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”
The law allows people to challenge the state in court when their “exercise of religion has been substantially burdened” and they believe the state exceeded its lawful bounds in doing so.
Shawn Reagor, director of Equality and Economic Justice with the Montana Human Rights Network, told the AP that the law “allows individuals to turn the shield of religious freedom we all hold dear into a weapon to attack LGBTQ and Indigenous Montanans.”