An Arizona federal judge has reversed the convictions of four faith-based volunteers who were fined and put on probation for aiding migrants at the border, saying the activists were simply exercising their “sincerely held religious beliefs.”
The ruling in U.S. v. Hoffman, announced Feb. 3, overturned a lower court decision that found the activists guilty of breaking federal law by leaving out water and food for migrants crossing the U.S.–Mexico border in Arizona’s Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge.
Activists argued they were acting on their religious beliefs to save immigrant lives and their prosecution was a violation of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which bars the government from placing a “substantial burden” on the free exercise of religion.
“Defendants argue that those actions, taken with the avowed goal of mitigating death and suffering, were sincere exercises of religion and that their prosecution is barred by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” Márquez wrote in her decision. “The Court finds that Defendants demonstrated that their prosecution for this conduct substantially burdens their exercise of sincerely held religious beliefs, and that the Government failed to demonstrate that prosecuting Defendants is the least restrictive means of furthering any compelling governmental interest.”
–Originally published on RNS.
Editors note: The federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (commonly shortened to “RFRA” and pronounced “Rifra”) was passed in 1993 to provide stronger protections for religious free exercise. Since that time, it has become part of the national debate over same-sex marriage and religious freedom.