Statement of Chairman Charles T. Canady
Thursday, March 26, 1998
The Need for Federal Protection of Religious Freedom
after Boerne v. Flores, II
This morning the Subcommittee on the Constitution convenes to hear testimony from legal experts and religious leaders concerning cases where neutral laws or regulations have substantially burdened the ability of people to freely exercise their religion.
As we have discussed in earlier hearings, America was founded upon the notion that the government should not interfere with the religious practices of its citizens. Constitutional protection for the free exercise of religion is at the core of the American experiment in democracy.
In 1993, Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RiFRA. RiFRA was designed to protect the free exercise of religion by requiring government to have a compelling reason for laws that substantially burden that religious exercise. Congress based its authority for RiFRA on Section Five of the Fourteenth Amendment. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court struck down RiFRA last June in the Boerne v. Flores case, deciding that Congress had exceeded its authority under Section Five.
The result of the Boerne decision is that men and women of faith are now without adequate protection against laws that interfere with their religious practice. I look forward to hearing from our legal experts and religious leaders today about the religious activities and practices that have been left vulnerable after Boerne v. Flores.
The freedom to practice one's religion is a fundamental right We, in Congress, should work to ensure that this basic right is not relegated to second-class status. I look forward to working successfully in this Congress to preserve full protection for our "first freedom" -- the freedom to practice one's religion without government interference.