From the Worldwide Faith News archives

New Mexico's Religious Freedom Bill

Date 08 Apr 2000 02:11:13

April 8, 2000
Adventist Press Service (APD)
Christian B. Schaeffler, Editor-in-chief
Fax +41-61-261 61 18
CH-4003 Basel, Switzerland

New Mexico's Religious Freedom Bill is Part of a 
Nation-wide Trend, says Adventist Leader 

Santa Fe, New Mexico.    A bill protecting freedom 
of religion is one step closer to becoming law in 
New Mexico, say local Seventh-day Adventist Church 
members who support the legislation. The proposed 
law, which was unanimously approved last week by 
the House in New Mexico, would make it more 
difficult for state governments to pass laws that 
restricted a person's faith.

Adventist Church members in Albuquerque worked in 
support of the legislation, joining a broad 
coalition of civil rights activists and religious 
organisations, including the American Sikhs, the 
Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations and a 
number of Christian groups.

"This may seem like an isolated state action, but 
it has a broader significance," says Richard Lee 
Fenn, associate director of the public affairs and 
religious liberty department for the world Church. 
Pointing to the eight similar bills that have been 
passed by state legislatures since 1991, Fenn says 
there is a "growing realisation throughout the 
United States of America that we can no longer 
afford to take our religious free exercise rights 
for granted, and that if the federal government 
cannot act, then the states must move to ensure 
that our heritage of religious liberty is 
The recent move to shore up religious rights in 
the United States is in response to post-1990 
decisions by the Supreme Court that have lowered 
the level of legal protection available to people 
of faith.  Under current precedent, federal or 
state laws that operate to inhibit the free 
exercise of religion will not run afoul of the 
First Amendment, unless it can be shown that the 
government has specifically intended to restrict 
religious action. 
But as Fenn points out, the majority of laws that 
hurt people of faith are not specifically targeted 
at religion.  He points to zoning laws, which can 
make it difficult for religious organisations to 
get permission to build houses of worship, or 
dress codes for state employees that may not make 
allowances for special religious headgear. "Why 
should these laws be exempt from scrutiny?" asks 

An attempt to fix the problem at the federal level 
failed, when in 1997 the Supreme Court struck down 
the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 
1993 as being outside the constitutional authority 
of Congress.

A similar federal bill-the Religious Liberty 
Protection Act-passed the House in 1999 but now 
appears to have stalled in the Senate.

The fate of the New Mexico measure is uncertain; 
although the state Senate is likely to pass the 
bill, New Mexico's governor, Gary Johnson, vetoed 
a similar law passed by the legislature last year. 

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