[Congressional Record Volume 140, Number 51 (Tuesday, May 3, 1994)]
[Senate]
[Page S]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]


[Congressional Record: May 3, 1994]
From the Congressional Record Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]

 
                 THE RELIGIOUS FREEDOM RESTORATION ACT

  Mr. HATCH. Mr. President, I rise today to address an issue of great 
concern to the citizens of Utah and every other State. This past year, 
Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. This is a 
landmark bill designed to restore strong protections to citizens 
exercising their religion against unreasonable Government interference. 
Unfortunately, the Clinton administration, with breathtaking speed, has 
interpreted the act in a manner that effectively guts it.
  The Religious Freedom Restoration Act was described by many religious 
leaders--accurately so--as one of the most significant pieces of 
legislation in support of religious freedom to ever come out of 
Congress. It was intended to restore to all Americans a fundamental 
right guaranteed by the first amendment to our Constitution: the free 
exercise of religion. The act had widespread support from a broad and 
diverse coalition of religious and civil rights organizations, from the 
ACLU to the Free Congress Foundation. I was the leading sponsor of this 
act along with Senator Kennedy.
  Recently, I became aware that the Department of Justice intervened in 
what I believe is the first appellate case involving the interpretation 
of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. To my deep chagrin, I learned 
that the Department had committed itself to a position in its amicus 
curiae brief that is contrary to the plain meaning of the act, to the 
detriment of religious freedom. Despite the act's widespread support 
and its clearly defined and agreed upon objective, its purpose is being 
undermined by this administration.
  I might add that the core meaning of the bill was never a subject of 
controversy in Congress.
  The underlying case, Christians versus Crystal Evangelical Church, 
involves a bankruptcy court decision which ordered a Protestant 
Christian congregation to return money to a Government bankruptcy 
trustee that was tithed by two members of the church who later filed a 
bankruptcy petition. The tithes were offered over a period of years in 
good faith, in the exercise of their religious beliefs and without any 
fraudulent intent.
  Under the bankruptcy code, any transfer of assets made within 1 year 
of a bankruptcy may be recovered by the trustee to pay creditors. This 
provision is intended to prevent debtors from fraudulently disposing of 
or shielding their assets. The tithes that issued in this case were 
made out of sincere religious belief within 1 year of filing a 
bankruptcy petition.
  No one challenges the importance of the Government's interest in 
preventing fraud. Preventing fraud would probably satisfy a compelling 
State interest, which would be all right under the Religious Freedom 
Restoration Act. However, as in this case, the Government's interest is 
simply in enlarging the pool of assets for creditors, not preventing 
fraud. This interest does not satisfy the compelling Government 
interest standard that must be met under the Religious Freedom 
Restoration Act. In my view, the interest in collecting for creditors, 
while very important, would almost never be compelling when weighed 
against the interests embodied in the first amendment.
  In its brief, the Department argues that the Government's interest in 
protecting the financial interests of creditors conclusively 
establishes a compelling interest that overrides any religious free 
exercise right. If the Department's position prevails, it will have a 
disastrous impact on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, rendering 
it virtually meaningless. The department's very broad definition of the 
compelling State interest test, if adopted by the courts, will once 
again eliminate any real protection of religious liberty under the 
first amendment.
  Mr. President, just 6 short months ago, President Clinton signed into 
law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in a glorious ceremony on the 
south lawn of the White House before a large group of religious 
leaders. In his remarks he noted correctly that the act requires that 
the Government should be held to a very high level of proof before it 
can interfere with anyone's free exercise of religion. In fact, the 
Religious Freedom Restoration Act sets forth a specific standard that 
requires the Government interest to be a compelling State interest, an 
interest of the highest order.
  It is difficult for me to imagine that providing an economic 
advantage to a pool of creditors satisfies the compelling governmental 
interests necessary to override our first amendment protection of 
religious free exercise, but the Department argues this position. And 
especially is the Department wrong since there was no fraud in this 
case, or no attempt to defraud.
  I intend to ask Attorney General Janet Reno to reconsider the 
Department's position in this case. Perhaps this is the kind of limited 
protection President Clinton envisioned when he committed himself to 
the protection of one of the most precious of all-American liberties--
religious freedom--but I can say quite confidently that this is not the 
type of protection Congress fought so hard and so long to restore. The 
Department's position is a slap in the face to our religious community, 
and it should not stand.
  I personally believe that President Clinton must not know what they 
are doing, or he would put a stop to it. So, in a sense, it is a slap 
in his face, as well, since he was one of the strongest supporters of 
what we were trying to do. I hope that he will get involved and direct 
the Department to back off--especially since there is no fraud here--
and allow the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to have the widespread, 
broad coverage that we intended here in Congress in the first place.
  I urge my colleagues to join with me in defending the religious 
liberties guaranteed by the first amendment and reestablished under the 
Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
  Mr. President, I suggest the absence of a quorum.
  The PRESIDENT pro tempore. The clerk will call the roll.
  The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.
  Mr. EXON. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for 
the quorum call be rescinded.
  The PRESIDENT pro tempore. Without objection, it is so ordered.
  Under the previous order, the Senator is permitted to speak for up to 
5 minutes.

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