Clinton Signs Religious Liberty Bill into Law

September 21, 2000

Source: The Christian Science Monitor

On September 21, 2000, The Christian Science Monitor reported on the bill passed by the House and signed by President Clinton which protects religious institutions in zoning issues. The "bill doesn't exempt churches from zoning regulations, but when religious groups show that the rules would create "a substantial burden," officials must show a compelling reason for doing so, and must do it in the least restrictive way. They must also treat religious applicants at least as well as they do secular ones. 'In the wake of the Supreme Court's 1990 decision lowering the Constitutional protection of 'free exercise' of religion, there are several problems in this realm,' says Melissa Rogers, general counsel for the Baptist Joint Committee, but 'this bill was geared toward the most pervasive ones.' A coalition of 50 religious and civil rights groups worked for passage of The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. (The bill also deals with religious rights in prisons, hospitals, and group homes.) Local governments and planning officials insist, however, that widespread discrimination has not been demonstrated. 'We don't see it as a protection of religious freedom, but a preferential establishment of an exemption from general community standards,' says Randy Arndt, spokesman for the National League of Cities. Larry Naake, executive director of the National Association of Counties, warned senators that the bill would require 'expenditure of significant resources ... to defend against frivolous lawsuits...' Rogers, however, sees the issue as going the other way. 'We're facing the situation now where [cities] have been overzealous with religious groups. There needs to be some check on that authority.'"