WASHINGTON (Jan. 20)
Attorney General-designate Zoe Baird has come out strongly in favor of legislation that would make it harder for the government to encroach on free exercise of religion.
The legislation, known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, has wide support in Jewish and other religious communities. It was designed to circumvent a 1990 Supreme Court ruling permitting Oregon to prosecute Native Americans for using the hallucinogen peyote in religious rituals.
Jewish groups consider the case a dangerous precedent for laws that could restrict other ritual practices, such as kosher slaughter.
The issue came up during Baird’s confirmation hearings this week before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In response to a question from Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Baird said she thought that returning to the pre-1990 standards “should be one of the highest priorities in the early days of the administration.”
She added that there was “an anxiety now that really just need not exist” that states will begin examining and possibly regulating “the practices of various religious groups, and particularly religious minority groups in different communities.”
“The legislation is a top priority for virtually all religious communities, and it’s gratifying to see that it will be for the attorney general as well,” commented Mark Pelavin, Washington representative for the American Jewish Congress.
President Clinton has also said he supports the legislation, which adds to Jewish groups’ optimism that the current Congress could enact the bill.