Advocacy Group Urges California Lawmakers To Replace RFRA

Wednesday, October 8, 1997

On Oct. 8, the American Jewish Congress called on the California legislature to enact a state law similar to the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was invalidated by the Supreme Court earlier this year.

Before the state’s Assembly Committee on the Judiciary, Marc D. Stern, co-director of the AJCongress Commission on law and social action, said a RFRA-type law is necessary to combat state regulations that hamper religious freedom.
Stern’s group is leading the California Coalition for the Free Exercise of Religion, made up of 15 religious and civil liberties groups, in promoting the legislation.

“The complex society in which we live tolerates, and often requires regulation to a degree unprecedented in American history. Oftentimes, the regulations are cast in a form which interferes with the practice of one faith or another,” said Stern in a statement released yesterday.

Legislation modeled after RFRA is necessary to hold “the well-meaning regulatory state” in check, said Stern, by insisting that “freedom to practice one’s religion is an affirmative good, which society will not interfere with in the pursuit of other, even important goals, unless those goals are of overriding importance.”

Congress passed RFRA in 1993 to counteract a 1990 Supreme Court decision which some said weakened the test courts use to determine when a state or federal law subverts the individual’s right to free exercise of religion. Last July, the Supreme Court overturned RFRA, ruling that its passage represented an improper use of congressional power.