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In the Legislature

When necessary to protect religious freedom and human life, the Center seeks legislative solutions. Known for its collaborative work with organizations of all faiths and groups across the political spectrum, the Center was instrumental in passage of several of the most important religious freedom laws passed in the past 40 years. The Center tracks legislation that threatens First Amendment rights and provides legal analysis and commentary on critical issues.

FEDERAL LEGISLATION

The Center provided crucial leadership in the passage of these federal laws that protect so much of Americans’ daily religious freedom:

Equal Access Act of 1984, 20 U.S.C. §§ 4071-4074 (1984): The Center was instrumental in the drafting of the Equal Access Act, federal law that has protected the right of millions of public secondary school students to meet for prayer and Bible study for over 33 years. The Center provided guidance to 14,000 school superintendents nationwide as to how to implement the Act.

Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, 42 U.S.C. §2000bb, et seq. (1993): The Center helped lead a coalition of nearly 60 organizations from across the political and religious spectrum to protect Americans’ free exercise of religion from substantial burdens imposed by the government. The critical importance of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was recently demonstrated by the Department of Justice’s reliance on the Act in giving guidance to all federal agencies as to how they must protect all Americans’ religious freedom.

The “Charitable Choice” provision in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (1996), 42 U.S.C. §604(a): The Center assisted in legislation that permitted religious organizations to receive direct government funding in order to provide social services to vulnerable populations and to enable beneficiaries to have more choice among service providers.

The Religious Liberty and Charitable Donation Protection Act of 1998, P.L. 105-183: The Center led the effort to protect religious charities from overly aggressive federal bankruptcy trustees.

The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, 22 U.S.C. §6401(a): The Center helped lead a coalition to pass this landmark law that makes religious freedom a priority in United States foreign policy and strengthens American advocacy for individuals persecuted in foreign countries on account of their religious beliefs and practices. It established the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, as well as the State Department office for the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.

Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, 42 U.S.C. §2000cc, et seq. (2000): The Center led a coalition to secure passage of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which protects freedom of religion for churches threatened by onerous zoning restrictions, as well as prisoners’ religious exercise.

CONGRESSIONAL TESTIMONY

The Center is often invited to provide expert testimony to Congress on vital religious freedom issues, including:

Testimony on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights’ Report Attacking Religious Freedom: On February 16, 2017, Center Director Kim Colby testified before the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice of the House Judiciary Committee at its hearing on “The State of Religious Liberty in America,” laying out the deeply troubling flaws of the USCCR’s September 20176 Report that treated religious freedom as an afterthought rather than an inalienable human right. Read the Center’s testimony and watch the hearing.

Written Statement on Campus Free Speech Issues: On April 4, 2017, the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice held a hearing on “First Amendment Protections on Public College and University Campuses.” The Center submitted a written statement for the hearing record that focused on numerous examples of colleges threatening religious student groups with exclusion from campus simply because they require their leaders to be religious. Read the Center’s written statement.

Written Statement on Campus Free Speech Issues: On March 2, 2016, the Subcommittee on Oversight of the House Committee on Ways and Means held a hearing on “Protecting the Free Exchange of Ideas on College Campuses.” The Center submitted a written statement for the hearing record that focused on numerous examples of colleges threatening religious student groups with exclusion from campus simply because they require their leaders to be religious. Read the Center’s written statement.

Testimony on Religious Groups’ Exclusion from College Campuses: On June 2, 2015, Center Director Kim Colby testified before the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice of the House Judiciary Committee at its hearing on “First Amendment Protections on Public College and University Campuses.” On too many college campuses, religious student groups are being excluded because they require that their leaders agree with the groups’ religious beliefs, message, and standards of conduct. The Center’s testimony highlighted several campuses where this problem has occurred and the importance of protecting religious students’ on campuses nationwide. Read the Center’s testimony and letters from the students themselves telling their stories. Watch the hearing or peruse the Committee’s hearing report.

Written Statement on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act: On February 13, 2015, the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice of the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on “Oversight of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.” The Center submitted a written statement about the history and importance of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act based on CLS’s leadership in the coalition that supported its enactment in 1993.

Testimony on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act: On June 10, 2014, Center Director Kim Colby testified before the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice of the House Judiciary Committee at its hearing on “The State of Religious Liberty in the United States.” The Center’s testimony warned that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”) was about to come under intense attack by opponents of religious freedom and urged Congress to understand the critical importance of RFRA for all Americans’ religious freedom. The testimony helped forearm members of Congress for the attack on RFRA that came the following month when a Senate measure to gut the Act was defeated. Read the Center’s testimony, a one-pager about RFRA, or a short explanation why RFRA is essential to protect all Americans’ religious freedom. Watch the hearing or read the Committee’s hearing report.

STATE LEGISLATION

Twenty years ago, the Center initiated the movement to pass Religious Freedom Restoration Acts in the states. Twenty-one states have Religious Freedom Restoration Acts: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.

The Center has also supported legislation to protect religious student groups from being excluded from college campuses because they require their leaders to agree with the groups’ religious beliefs. Nine states have laws that explicitly protect religious student groups: Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Virginia.