Hearings

2141 Rayburn House Office Building

The Honorable Bob Goodlatte

Chairman, House Judiciary Committee

Chairman Goodlatte:  “The religion clauses of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution state ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.’

"Since the birth of our nation, the central question regarding religious liberty has been the degree to which religion and government can coexist.  Indeed, the founding fathers feared the effect of government on the free exercise of religion.  In a letter dated June 12, 1812 to Benjamin Rush, John Adams stated that ‘[n]othing is more dreaded than the National Government meddling with Religion.’

“This dread has resurfaced amidst the current Administration’s policies that ignore and are often hostile to the religious protections afforded by our Constitution.  Many regulations fail to accommodate Americans’ religious beliefs. Others seek to single out religion for adverse treatment.  From the HHS Mandate to the infringement on the freedom of churches and other religious groups to choose their ministers, Americans’ religious liberties seem to be under constant attack today.

“In an effort to reaffirm the protections provided by the First Amendment, I supported the bipartisan effort to pass the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The federal government must provide religious accommodations in our laws, and any laws passed that infringe upon religious freedom must be subject to the strictest scrutiny in our courts.

“My hope today is that this hearing will explore whether our federal government is complying with the constitutional and statutory protections afforded to all faiths.

“And while religious liberty remains threatened, I am nevertheless encouraged by recent Supreme Court decisions that safeguard it. Last month, for example, the Supreme Court upheld legislative prayer in the May 5, 2014 decision, Town of Greece v. Galloway. The Court held that a municipality did not violate the Establishment Clause when it opened its meetings with prayer consistent with the traditions of the United States. I am glad that the long-held tradition of prayer remains ever strong in our state and local governments as well as in Congress.

“In 2012, the Justices of the Supreme Court unanimously rejected the federal government’s argument in Hosanna-Tabor. Astonishingly, the Administration’s lawyers argued in that case that the First Amendment had little application to the employment relationship between a church and its ministers. The Court stated that ‘[r]equiring a church to accept or retain an unwanted minister, or punishing a church for failing to do so, intrudes upon more than a mere employment decision.’ The Court described the Administration’s lawyers’ position as ‘extreme.’ I hope that the Supreme Court will continue to protect religious liberty in the future, including later this month when it issues its opinion in the HHS Mandate case.

“I want to thank all our witnesses for coming today to testify, and I extend a special welcome to a constituent of mine, Mat Staver, who is coming from Lynchburg, Virginia today to testify.  As a founding member and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, Mat is a passionate defender of the Constitution and religious liberty. He is also working to educate future legal minds as Dean of Liberty University’s law school. Welcome, Mat. I look forward to your testimony today, and to that of our other witnesses.”

 

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