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Coalition Urges Congress to Keep '93 Religious Freedom Restoration Act

"Changing RFRA because some disagree with one particular application of the law would set a dark precedent"

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 02, 2014 (Zenit.org) - A coalition of leaders of diverse U.S. religious denominations and faiths, including Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has announced that they "are united in [their] staunch support" for protecting the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which passed with nearly unanimous bipartisan support in 1993.

The coalition sent a letter to Congressional leadership June 30 asking that they "not amend or repeal RFRA, one of our nation's most vital legal protections for the religious freedom and rights of conscience of every person of every faith."

"RFRA is a highly flexible legal standard that protects the rights and liberties of individuals of all religious faiths, including the most vulnerable," said the letter. "In the United States, freedom of religion has always included - and should always include - the right to live out one's religion and act according to one's conscience outside the walls of one's house of worship."

They added: "For over two decades, RFRA has protected Americans of all faiths from government coercion. Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, and others all benefit when powerful government officials know that, as President Bill Clinton stated when he signed RFRA, government must meet 'a very high level of proof before it interferes with someone's free exercise of religion.'"

Signers of the letter included leaders of the Assemblies of God (USA), the Church of God in Christ, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America, the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the Rabbinical Council of America, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America and the Wesleyan Church.

Full text of the letter follows:

RE: Protecting the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993

Dear Speaker Boehner, Minority Leader Pelosi, Majority Leader Reid, and Minority Leader McConnell:

We are leaders of diverse faith communities representing over 100 million Americans. Our faith communities worship in many different ways, and we have different views on many things. But in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's decisions in favor of Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties (Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores), we are united in our staunch support for maintaining all of the existing provisions and protections of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA). RFRA is a highly flexible legal standard that protects the rights and liberties of individuals of all religious faiths, including the most vulnerable.

The Supreme Court affirmed that all Americans - including family business owners - should be free to live and work according to their faith and receive the protections afforded by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. When President Clinton signed RFRA into law over twenty years ago, he finalized the work of overwhelming bipartisan majorities in the United States House and Senate. Only three Members of Congress voted against RFRA. Not one of Congress's 535 Members suggested that this landmark new law would not protect a person's free exercise of religion if she chose to provide for herself, her family, and her employees by starting a business.

In the United States, freedom of religion has always included - and should always include - the right to live out one's religion and act according to one's conscience outside the walls of one's house of worship. Every single day, millions of Americans are motivated by their faith to go and serve the neediest among us. The good works of these individuals of faith can be seen in soup kitchens, hospitals, schools, hospices - and, yes, family-owned businesses.

For over two decades, RFRA has protected Americans of all faiths from government coercion. Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, and others all benefit when powerful government officials know that, as President Bill Clinton stated when he signed RFRA, government must meet "a very high level of proof before it interferes with someone's free exercise of religion."

We have come together to write this letter with one specific plea: Do not amend or repeal RFRA, one of our nation's most vital legal protections for the religious freedom and rights of conscience of every person of every faith.

Changing RFRA because some disagree with one particular application of the law would set a dark precedent by undermining the fundamental principle of religious freedom for all, even for those whose religious beliefs may be unpopular at the moment. Congress has never passed legislation with the specific purpose of reducing Americans' religious freedom. It should not consider doing so now.

Freedom of religion, like freedom of speech, must stand for all Americans, for all time.

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