The Threshold Right

If you listened to Focus on the Family Tuesday you know Jim Dobson devoted his program to discussing the Religious Liberty Protection Act with Congressman Charles Canady and me. Jim urged listeners to get behind this bill—and I want to say "amen." Canady introduced the Religious Liberty Protection Act, known as RLPA. Hearings took place last week, and the bill is on its way out of subcommittee as I speak. The full committee will soon act, and the House leadership has promised me they will bring it to a vote. I try not to do this too often, but this is one time I'm asking listeners to call their congressmen and urge support for this bill. Let me give you the background: Five years ago, Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, known as RFRA. It was intended to strengthen the protection of the First Amendment's free exercise clause. RFRA passed unanimously in the House and with just three dissenting votes in the Senate. But two years ago, in an act of supreme arrogance, the Supreme Court threw out RFRA. The result was the greatest blow to religious liberty in this century. It gave the green light to local and state jurisdictions to crack down on religious exercise and they have done so with gusto. Zoning officials have clamped down on home Bible studies and have even tried to limit the activity of churches. In the public schools, Jewish children have been told they can't wear Yarmulkes and Christian kids have been told they can't wear religious jewelry. In the prisons, Christians have been forbidden to take Bibles to Bible studies. Home-schooling families are being harassed—just to name a few examples. That's why Congress must act by passing RLPA now. There are two great issues at stake here. The first is religious liberty. That's the threshold right of any society. Interfere with freedom of conscience, and all other freedoms begin to unravel. The second issue is who has the final say on constitutional questions. In declaring RFRA unconstitutional, the Supreme Court told Congress, in effect: you don't have the right to pass this kind of a law to expand civil liberties; we decide what is constitutional. Many Americans and even some congressmen believe the Constitution gives the Supreme Court the sole right of constitutional review. Wrong: Our Founding Fathers intended no such thing. Finally, there are two important aspects of the Religious Liberty Protection Act that you need to know about. First, the bill does not exempt prisoners from its protections. Good—this aspect of the bill must not be taken out as some congressmen and senators are demanding. Faith-based solutions are the only things that make a difference in turning around a prisoner. And religious liberty is, remember, indivisible. Weaken it for one, and we weaken it for all. Second, some people object to the fact that RLPA is being introduced under the commerce clause; they don't like giving the federal government the right to tell the states what to do. I understand that. But this legislation is not telling the states what to do—it's telling them what they cannot do; that is, encroach upon our liberties. If we don't pass RLPA our religious freedoms will be in grave peril. Help us pressure Congress to act this year. For nothing less than the most fundamental liberty of a free society is at stake


Chuck Colson


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