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
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