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ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU NEWS RELEASE * NEWS RELEASE * NEWS RELEASE * NEWS RELEASE ACLU Strongly Supports Religious Freedom Restoration Act; Urges Congress to Act Quickly to Restore Protections For IMMEDIATE RELEASE March 11, 1993 WASHINGTON -- The American Civil Liberties Union today joined congressional sponsors and other members of the diverse coalition formed to support the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in calling upon Congress to act quickly in restoring full legal protection to religious liberty. "Passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is the most important action that Congress can take for the free exercise of religion since the First Congress passed the Bill of Rights," said ACLU Legislative Counsel Robert S. Peck. The legislation is designed to restore the level of legal protection that was previously enforced by the courts under the First Amendment. "For two centuries, the guarantees of the First Amendment has proven to be the boldest and most successful experiment in religious liberty the world has known," Peck added. "A disastrous and erroneous decision by the Supreme Court three years ago has threatened to derail that experiment and make religious freedom a matter of legislative grace. Such an approach is inconsistent with our constitutional heritage and the level of protection the courts afford all other fundamental rights." In Employment Division v. Smith (1990), the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the traditional tests for evaluating infringements of religious liberty and effectively read the Free Exercise Clause out of the First Amendment. As Justice Blackmun's dissent correctly put it, the Court's "holding dramatically departs from well-settled First Amendment jurisprudence . . . and is incompatible with our Nation's fundamental commitment to individual religious liberty." The Religious Freedom Restoration Act attempts to restore the previous status quo, under which religious practices must be accommodated unless a compelling governmental interest can be demonstrated and advanced in the least restrictive manner. The Smith decision rejected a claim ~or unemployment benefits by two Native Americans who had been fired from their state jobs for the ritual use of peyote in tribal religious ceremonies. It did so expansivsly, reaching far beyond the issue before them and declaring that government practices and policies that are neutrally stated and generally applicable will be upheld against constitutional attack as long as the policies are not targeted at religious practice. Thus, under the Court's new rules, laws passed in ignorance or passed irrespective of their impact on religious freedom would be deemed constitutionally valid. In rejecting the compelling government interest standard that previously governed these cases, Justice Scalia's majority opinion characterized the test as a "luxury" that the nation could no longer afford as a result of the country's growing religious diversity. "The Court's rationale turns the First Amendment on its head, and guarantees judicial protection only in periods of relative religious homogeneity," Peck said. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act simply and elegantly restores the compelling interest test that previously characterized free exercise cases prior to Smith. The ACLU applauds the leadership of Senators Edward Kennedy (D- MA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Representatives Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Christopher Cox (R-CA) as well as the more than 150 original co-sponsors in both Houses, for their support of this important legislation. --endit-- ============================================================= ACLU Free Reading Room | A publications and information resource of the gopher:// | American Civil Liberties Union National Office | | "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty"


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