NYS Religion Bill Discriminates, Flying Fast Under the Radar

The Institute for Humanist Studies


New York Legislative Update

October 23, 2007Religious Freedom and Restoration Act Press Release NYSThe following is a press release issued yesterday by the Institute for Humanist Studies regarding the proposed “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” in New York State.

Oct. 22, 2007For Release: Immediately Upon ReceiptContact: Duncan Crary, 518-432-7820Info@HumanistStudies.orgNYS Religion Bill Discriminates, Flying Fast Under the RadarALBANY — A humanist think tank is opposing New York state legislation that would grant special privileges to religion and excludes the nonreligious. The Albany-based Institute for Humanist Studies says the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) could put many of New York’s secular laws into jeopardy.”Gov. Spitzer, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno are pushing for legislation that discriminates against the 1.9 million nonreligious New Yorkers,” said Jennifer Lange, legislative liaison of the Institute for Humanist Studies. “This proposed legislation is flying fast and under the radar. New Yorkers need to know just how dangerous this bill could be if passed into law.”At the request of Gov. Eliot Spitzer, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver submitted the proposed legislation (A9098) on June 12. The bill is co-sponsored by Assemblyman Joseph R. Lentol (D-Brooklyn) and Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn).On Sept. 12, the New York RFRA (S6464) was introduced, off session, by Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno’s Rules Committee with no co-sponsors.RFRA claims to protect religious freedoms by allowing people to practice their faith without undue government interference. In practice, it not only pits the religious against the nonreligious, but religion against religion, Lange said.”By creating a two-tier standard of law, which gives special rights to religion, RFRA may embolden people to start using religion as an excuse to break laws that were made to protect society,” said Lange. “This is a Religious Excuse Act.”Constitutional scholar Marci Hamilton, Yeshiva University professor and author of “God vs. the Gavel,” has argued that RFRA places the following neutral laws under extremely demanding scrutiny: abortion regulations; child neglect, abuse and support laws; statutory rape and minimum age marriage laws; laws against domestic violence; zoning and building codes; antidiscrimination laws; fair housing laws; open space laws; and laws regarding religion in public schools.RFRA was passed in Congress in 1993. Portions of RFRA were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in “Boerne v. Flores,” 1997. In that ruling U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stevens stated that RFRA violated the First Amendment to U.S. Constitution because it is a “law respecting an establishment of religion.”Since that ruling, almost a dozen states have passed their own RFRA. New York may be next.”At the very least RFRA is unnecessary because it is redundant on both the federal level and state level. Our right to religious freedom is already protected in the Bill of Rights and the New York State Constitution,” Lange said. “The real motivation behind this bill may be to ensure that certain organized religions gain access to goods, resources and services that are not available to the average citizen.”The Senate and Assembly return for special session this week. To read the text of A9098/S6464 and find out how you can act now to stop this legislation, visit:http://humaniststudies.org/policy/ny.html?id=17###


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