Religious Freedom Bill Clears Hurdle in Senate Judiciary Panel
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Religious Freedom Bill Clears Hurdle in Senate Judiciary Panel

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The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a bill that would make it harder for government to encroach on the free exercise of religion, was given a stamp of approval by the Senate Judiciary Committee this week and sent to the full Senate for consideration.

The bill, supported by a broad coalition of Jewish and other religious groups, is designed to circumvent a 1990 Supreme Court ruling that gave states greater leeway in outlawing certain religious practices.

The Judiciary Committee voted 15-1 on Thursday to send the bill to the Senate floor, following the lead of the House Judiciary Committee, which voted in March to send its version of the bill to the floor of the House.

The only issue that could harm the bill’s chances for passage at this point, observers say, is the question of whether prisons would be exempt from the proposed new standards, which would require governments to prove a compelling interest before regulating a religious practice.

If an amendment exempting prisons is added to the Senate version of the bill, some observers think this could derail the legislation. But others expect this issue to be resolved satisfactorily and hope for quick passage in both chambers.

Attorney General Janet Reno has strongly backed the bill, and President Clinton has indicated he would sign it.

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