Religious Freedom Restoration Act: First Presidency issues statement after passage by U.S. Senate

The First Presidency issued a statement Oct. 27 after the U.S. Senate passed a bill earlier that day that would make it tougher for government to interfere with religious practices.

The First Presidency statement is as follows:"We are pleased that the Congress has approved the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and that President Clinton has said he intends to sign the legislation into law. We commend the sponsors of this legislation and the Religious Freedom Coalition for their recognition of the importance of the free exercise of religion to the freedom and well-being of our pluralistic society.

"The legislation restores to federal law a vital principle of general application embodied in our Church's eleventh Article of Faith, which dates back to 1842: `We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.' "

The Senate voted 97-3 to approve the act, which was endorsed by most faiths, including the Church. The House passed it earlier this year on a voice vote. It now goes to President Clinton for his signature. He endorsed the bill in last year's election campaign.

The bill is designed to overturn a 1990 Supreme Court ruling that allows laws and local ordinances to interfere with religion as long as they merely have rational reasons for doing so and do not specifically target any group. Under previous rules, such interference was allowed only if government could prove it had a "compelling" interest and then used the least restrictive means possible.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who co-sponsored the bill with Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said the 1990 ruling "has led to a string of lower court decisions eroding freedom of religion."

Sen. Hatch, a Church member, added: "This bill will restore religious freedom to every American whose free exercise of religion has been infringed upon unnecessarily by our government."

Utah's other senator, Bob Bennett, R-Utah, also a Church member, said, "It's too bad that Congress is forced to reaffirm the basic principle of religious freedom, which is such an integral part of the First Amendment."

Endorsement by the Church of pending legislation is considered rare, but in this case, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Council of the Twelve was sent by the Church twice to testify before Congress in favor of the bill.

Testifying Sept. 18, 1992, before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Elder Oaks said: "If past is prologue, the forces of local, state and federal governmental power, now freed from the compelling government interest test, will increasingly interfere with the free exercise of religion. We fear that the end result will be a serious diminution of the religious freedom guaranteed by the United States Constitution."

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