Religious Liberty Restoration Amendment
by Christopher Dodson
Executive Director, North Dakota Catholic Conference
Our nation was founded upon the principle that religious liberty is a fundamental human and legal right. This principle protected religious freedom for much our nation’s history. The Supreme Court, however, has ruled that religious liberty is not a fundamental right deserving the full protection under the Constitution.
Now is the time to restore religious liberty to the full protection under the law by adopting the Religious Liberty Restoration Amendment. The Religious Liberty Restoration Amendment is quite simple. It states that government cannot burden the exercise of religious liberty unless it is furthering a compelling government interest and has chosen the least restrictive means of doing so.
An effort to get enough signatures to place the Religious Liberty Restoration Amendment on the November ballot is in full-swing. If you have not done so, make sure your parish participates. Everything you need to collect signatures is available at the North Dakota Catholic Conference at: ndcatholic.org.
Some people have asked how the Religious Liberty Restoration Amendment would affect them. Here are some examples of the types of laws that could burden religious liberty without a religious liberty restoration amendment:
- A school policy that prohibits “make-up” or “cosmetics” that would burden a Catholic student’s wearing of ashes on Ash Wednesday.
• A school anti-gang policy interpreted to prohibit wearing rosaries and other religious items.
• A law requiring all medical students to receive training in abortion.
• A law that would require all medical schools and training hospitals to provide abortion training.
• A law or ordinance requiring pregnancy counseling centers to refer for abortions.
• A law or ordinance requiring pregnancy centers to display or provide information that violates their religious beliefs.
• A policy of eavesdropping on the conversations of incarcerated persons, including religious confessions.
• A state’s attorney’s practice of excluding from a jury any person who wears religious objects or jewelry.
• A policy requiring all licensed counselors to provide “relationship” therapy to same-sex couples.
• Laws that interfere with the religious aspects of maintaining church cemeteries.
• A law prohibiting employees from wearing religious garb, such as a nun’s habit, in public buildings or schools.
• An “English-only” policy prohibiting non-English religious services in government institutions (prisons, state hospital, jails, developmental center, etc.)
Each of these examples represent laws that have actually existed or been proposed. More examples are listed at: http://ndcatholic.org/rlra/ Without a Religious Liberty Restoration Amendment citizens have no recourse against the government in these types of cases.
Many lawmakers do not intend to burden the exercise of religion, but it is difficult for them to predict possible problems and draft exemptions for religious practices. A Religious Liberty Restoration Amendment in the state constitution would relieve them of task. Religious liberty would automatically be protected. At the same time, there are a growing number of lawmakers and local officials who are indifferent or even hostile toward religion.
That is why the passage of a Religious Liberty Restoration Amendment is so important. If you have not got involved, do so now.