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NEVADA - OPPOSITION EXPECTED FROM AN UNEXPECTED SOURCE


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Pacific Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists

Department of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty

April 4, 2005

NEVADA RELIGIOUS FREEDOM RESTORATION ACT INTRODUCED – NV AB

246

OPPOSITION EXPECTED FROM AN UNEXPECTED SOURCE

The drive to protect the free exercise of religion by

means of state law continues in Nevada, this year, with the

introduction of NV AB 246, the Nevada Religious Freedom

Restoration Act. About twenty states have already enacted

similar bills, or adopted the legal provisions by court

decision.

The bill text resembles similar laws adopted in many

states, but the specific text was reviewed, revised and

submitted by the Church State Council, with special thanks

to Nicholas Miller, Esq., now director of the Andrews

University International Institute for Religious Liberty.

The bill is necessitated by a series of Supreme Court

decisions greatly undermining constitutional protection for

the Free Exercise of Religion.

The support of all residents of Nevada is urgently needed,

especially with opposition expected from some of the

liberal churches, who simply don’t understand the issues.

The Nevada legislature meets for only 120 days every other

year, so it is difficult to get bills passed.

The good news is that the bill’s sponsor is the chairman

of the committee where the bill will be heard. Please

direct your faxes, e.mails and phone calls in support to

the sponsor:

Assemblyman Bernie Anderson

775-684-8563 office

775-358-5825 fax

[]banderson@asm.state.nv.us[/]

Your letter should identify the bill number, NV AB 246;

your support for the bill; and one or more reasons why you

care about religious liberty and the free exercise of

religion.

Those of you who do not live in Nevada can begin by

praying for passage of the bill, and forward this to your

friends in Nevada, or to others who can join in prayer, and

contacting people in Nevada.

Special thanks also go to Pastors Al Tilstra and Kevin

James, without whom there would not be a bill. Al has

served as a chaplain in the Nevada Legislature, and Kevin

is our Public Affairs & Religious Liberty director for the

Nevada/Utah Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. The two

have worked tirelessly to interest legislators in the bill,

and together, they recruited Bernie Anderson to sponsor the

bill.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

These religious liberty newsflashes and legislative e.lerts

are published by the Pacific Union Conference of

Seventh-day Adventists, Department of Public Affairs &

Religious Liberty.

For assistance with a religious liberty problem:

Alan J. Reinach, Esq., []ajreinach@verizon.net;[/] 805-413-7396

Michael Peabody, Esq. []mpeabody@puconline.org;[/] 916-446-2552

More information about religious liberty issues can be

found at www.churchstate.org.

Join the North American Religious Liberty Association at

www.religiousliberty.info.

Contributions to support the work of NARLA can also be made

at www.religiousliberty.info.

Subscribe to Liberty: a Magazine of Religious Liberty, at

www.libertymagazine.org

Questions and Answers on NV AB 246

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act

1. Why do we need this bill? Don’t our Federal and state

constitutions adequately protect religious freedom?

The answer is no, and we don’t know, respectively. Since

1990, when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down Employment

Division v. Smith, the famous peyote case, we no longer

enjoy Federal constitutional protection against most

government actions to restrict religious conduct. As a

result, Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration

Act which was signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1993. This

was the result of a coalition across the religious and

political spectrum, including many natural enemies, uniting

to safeguard religious freedom.

However, in 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court struck again,

ruling in the case of Boerne v. Flores that RFRA was an

unconstitutional infringement on the states. In this case,

a Catholic church sought to expand its sanctuary to provide

services to a growing congregation, only to be denied

permits by the city because it was deemed an historic

property. The Supreme Court ruled that the city did not

have to justify its restriction on the church. Moreover,

the Court said that what Congress could not do because it

lacked authority – regulate the states – only the states

could do.

Nevada state court decisions simply haven’t adequately

examined the free exercise of religion under the state

constitution, so we don’t know whether the state courts

will protect religious liberty more vigorously than under

the Federal constitution.

We know that our Federal constitutional protections have

been decimated. We just don’t know what protection we have

at the state level.

2. How would AB 246 protect religious freedom?

The threat to religious freedom comes from a myriad of

government rules and regulations that apply to everyone,

every day. The problem is that they are also applied to

restrict religious conduct. Before the Supreme Court

reversed itself, there was a generation of case law holding

that government must meet a high burden of proof to justify

infringing on religious freedom. AB 246 would restore that

high burden by permitting government to substantially

burden religious conduct only when it can demonstrate a

compelling interest for doing so, and also, that it had

employed the least restrictive means of achieving that

interest short of restricting the religious conduct. This

standard is the same one used by the Supreme Court for

nearly thirty years.

3. Can you give an example of how this test would work?

Let’s take the case of the public schools, many of which

prohibit students from wearing hats to school. Suppose an

Orthodox Jew wears his yarmulke to school one day, which is

an expression of his religious faith. Should he be punished

for practicing his faith? Not unless the school has a

really good reason why this student shouldn’t wear a

religious “hat.” However reasonable the rule is, and no one

is arguing that schools don’t have the right to establish

such rules – the question is whether the rule should be

applied to a religious student who wears a “hat” for

religious reasons. AB 246 would require the school to meet

a high burden of proof, not to prove that the rule itself

is needed, but to prove that the rule must be applied to

religious students.

4. Aren’t there exceptions to religious freedom?

Two problem areas for religious freedom involve land use

and the rights of prisoners. Both of these problems were

addressed by the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized

Persons Act of 2000, which Congress adopted five years ago.

States can no longer claim that a Religious Freedom

Restoration Act will negatively impact either land use or

prisoners’ rights, because those areas have already become

subject to the very same legal standard as contained in NV

AB 246.

5. How will AB 246 impact our constitutional rights?

It won’t. A statute cannot add to, or take away from our

constitutional rights. This bill will impose a statutory

requirement, not a constitutional one. However, it may

influence the courts to more strictly interpret the Nevada

Constitution to protect religious freedom more vigorously

than under the Federal Free Exercise Clause.

6. What can I do to protect religious freedom?

We’re glad you asked. Here are some suggestions:

* Write or call your legislators, and urge them to support

AB 246

* Photocopy this information, and distribute it in your

churches, businesses, workplaces, and neighborhoods.

* If you are a member of a religious organization, ask your

leadership to support this bill.

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