Tonight, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, through its Institute for Public Affairs, hailed the U.S. Congress’ passage of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. The measure passed both the Senate and House by unanimous consent in a flurry of pre-August recess activity.
The “RLUIPA” was sponsored in the Senate by Senators Hatch, Kennedy, Hutchinson, Lieberman, Smith, Daschle and Schumer, and in the House by Representatives Canaday, Nadler and Edwards.
A top legislative priority of the Orthodox Jewish community, and many other religious communities, this year, this legislation will redress the severe blows dealt to our nation’s “first freedom” by the Supreme Court in recent years. In handing down its ruling in Employment Division vs. Smith and then, more recently, striking down the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Court has severely impaired the rights contemplated by the Free Exercise Clause out of our Constitution. This impairment has been most directly felt in two areas addressed by this new legislation – the use of land use regulations to obstruct the activities of houses of worship, and the ability of prisoners and other institutionalized persons to receive spiritual guidance as part of their education and reform programming. In both those areas, this bill requires the government to meet a high standard of proof before it may be allowed to interfere with the free exercise of religion.
Nathan Diament, director of the Union’s Institute, issued the following statement in the wake of the Senate and House votes:
The Orthodox Jewish community is extremely pleased with Congress’ passage of this religious liberty legislation. This measure will give greater protection to religious communities of all faiths around this nation. It will ensure that they may build and gather in houses of worship without improper discrimination or undue interference on the part of government authorities. And it will give prisoners a greater likelihood of having access to religious practice as well. It serves the most basic ideals of our nation founded upon the principle of religious liberty.
We are grateful to the members of congress and their staffs with whom we worked intensively to achieve this goal over the past several months. We look forward to President Clinton signing this measure into law in the coming days to the benefit of all Americans of faith.