City Of Boerne v. Flores

521 U.S. 507 (1997)


The Boerne City Council passed an ordinance authorizing the city's Historic Landmark Commission to prepare a preservation plan with proposed historic landmarks and districts. Under the ordinance, the Commission must pre-approve construction affecting historic landmarks or buildings in a historic district. The Archbishop Flores (P) applied for a building permit so construction to enlarge the church could proceed. City authorities (D), relying on the ordinance and the designation of a historic district denied the application. P brought this suit challenging the permit denial. The Archbishop relied upon RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act) as one basis for relief from the refusal to issue the permit. The Act prohibits the government from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden is in the furtherance of a compelling government interest. The Act was passed in response to the Supreme Court ruling in Employment Div. Dept. Of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith. There the Court held that laws burdening the exercise of religion are valid if they are generally applicable. The District Court concluded that by enacting RFRA Congress exceeded the scope of its enforcement power under § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment. The court certified its order for interlocutory appeal, and the Fifth Circuit reversed, finding RFRA to be constitutional.