Washington, D.C. – Since the birth of our nation, debates about religious liberty have been centered on the relationship between religion and government. Indeed, the founding fathers feared the effect of government on 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.”
Many Americans today know all too well this dread. The policies and regulations implemented under the previous Administration were in many cases hostile to the religious protections afforded by our Constitution. Thankfully, several of these policies were struck down by the Supreme Court.
In 2012, for example, the Justices of the Supreme Court unanimously rejected the government’s argument in Hosanna-Tabor. To the surprise of many, the Administration’s lawyers argued 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 decision described the Administration’s lawyers’ position as “extreme.”
As this Committee today examines current threats to religious liberty, my hope is that we approach this examination in the same spirit as when Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in the 103rd Congress and it was signed into law. I cosponsored this legislation, and I was amazed at the incredible bipartisan support it generated. By the time the bill passed by a voice vote, it had the support of 170 cosponsors from both sides of the aisle and the overwhelming support from a variety of organizations across the political spectrum.
One key to RFRA’s success is that it was carefully crafted to avoid being outcome determinative. No carve-outs were added, which ensured that courts would have the ability to look at all the circumstances on a case by case basis, and make a decision particular to each case. By passing this law, Congress made it clear that 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.
I want to thank all our witnesses for coming today. I look forward to your testimony.
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