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Attorney General Nominee Backs Proposed Religious Freedom Bill

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Attorney General-designate Janet Reno said during confirmation hearings this week that the Clinton administration would back 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 broad support in Jewish and other religious communities. It was designed to circumvent a 1990 Supreme Court ruling that gave state governments greater leeway in outlawing certain religious practices.

While the 1990 case dealt with ritual use of the hallucinogen peyote, Jewish groups consider the ruling a dangerous precedent for laws that could restrict such practices as kosher slaughter.

During hearings Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Reno said President Clinton is “very anxious to sign that bill as soon as Congress can get it to his desk.”

She was responding to a question posed by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), whom she said she looked forward to working with in an effort to pass the bill.

Clinton has said in the past that he supports the legislation, which has raised hopes among Jewish groups that the bill will be adopted quickly after unsuccessful efforts last year.

Recent reports that the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, an important group that previously opposed the legislation, has now signed on to support it, have also fueled optimism about the bill’s quick passage.

The bill was expected to be introduced Thursday.

Reno, who is currently state’s attorney in Dade County, Fla., has been hailed by local Jewish groups for her commitment to civil rights.

At the hearing Tuesday, Reno said she wants “to make civil rights enforcement one of the high priorities of the office and do everything I can to see that Americans have equal opportunities.”

Clinton’s previous nominee for attorney general, Zoe Baird, also backed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Her nomination was derailed by reports that she had hired illegal aliens to care for her son.

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