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Posted 24 Feb 2001   For week ended January 26, 2001
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News about Mormons, Mormonism,
and the LDS Church
Sent on Mormon-News: 23Jan01

By Kent Larsen

LDS Church Speaks Out on Idaho Religious Freedom Act

EAGLE, IDAHO -- The LDS Church is using its influence in Idaho to support the Idaho Religious Freedom Act, a state law meant to restore the legal standard that existed before a 1990 US Supreme Court decision. Speaking in the Eagle Idaho Stake Conference Sunday, Elder F. Melvin Hammond, a former three-term minority leader in the Idaho legislature and now president of the LDS Church's North America Northwest Area, made the Church's position clear to local members. Monday, the Church released his remarks and an explanatory press release on the national service, PRNewswire.

In his remarks, Elder Hammond explained that before the 1990 Supreme Court decision, US courts used a "compelling state interest" test when deciding if a law could limit religious freedom. But in that decision, Employment Div., Ore. Dept. of Human Res. v. Smith, the court limited the "compelling state interest" standard, and allowed the state of Oregon to refuse unemployment compensation to members of the Native American Church who were fired for unlawfully using peyote in religious ceremonies. The court worried that the standard would allow US citizens to avoid laws simply by citing religious belief, and instead supported laws that "incidentally forbids" a religious practice "if the law is not specifically directed to religious practice and is otherwise constitutional."

Hammond argued Sunday that the new standard would provide "far less protection for religious liberty." According to Hammond, the LDS Church, after the 1990 decision, joined with many other churches and civil liberty groups to pass laws at both the federal and state levels to restore the "compelling state interest" standard.

Hammond also expressed surprise that some activists have argued against restoring the old standard. As a result of these arguments, Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne refused to sign the bill, passed overwhelmingly by the Idaho legislature, unless its effective date was delayed for a year so that religious leaders and legislators could discuss it further. Then in November, a statewide Episcopal convention changed its position slightly, urging the state legislature to exclude from the act laws that involve child abuse, domestic violence, child support and civil rights.

But Hammond argued that weakening the act will have grave consequences, and that the areas that some leaders wish to exclude would be considered a "compelling state interest." He says that the standard's 50 year history "has a long history of fairly protecting the religious freedom of individuals and institutions.


Church Affirms Support of Idaho Religious Freedom Act
PRNewswire 22Jan01 N1

Idaho leaders opposed to act
Houston TX Chronicle 23Dec00 T1


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