Religious Liberty

November 16, 1999

Over the last few weeks there has been a push for the Religious Liberty Protection Act. Although not all Christians are convinced that this legislation should be passed, there is nearly universal agreement that something must be done. Each week new examples of actions against those with religious convictions surface pointing to the need to bring some balance and sanity back to our understanding of church and state relations.

Much of the debate goes back to a Supreme Court decision in 1990 known as Employment Division versus Smith. The case involved Native Americans smoking peyote, but the implications were much more far reaching. The court ruled that states need only show a mere "rational basis" to justify laws that burden religious practices. So in 1993 Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to restore strict scrutiny. But the Supreme Court struck down that law in the 1997 case of City of Boerne versus Flores.

So what has happened? Well various governmental agencies have significantly burdened religious activities in churches, schools, and Christian organizations. A home Bible study was banned in Greenville, South Carolina while Tupperware parties and football parties were allowed. In Philadelphia, Christian day care centers were threatened with closure if they did not adopt policies that would allow hiring of homosexuals.

And then there is the case of Rolling Hills, California. The city adopted an ordinance prohibiting churches in areas zoned commercial. By the way, adult bookstores and massage parlors can operate in this commercial zone, but churches could not. Churches in Rolling Hills, California are only allowed in an "institutional" zone.

The Religious Liberty Protection Act is one attempt to bring balance back to this ongoing church/state debate and discussion. If it does not pass, then something else must be done to return legal protection to churches and Christian organizations.

I'm Kerby Anderson of Probe Ministries, and that's my opinion.