NY Governor wants special rights for religion..what do you theists think of this?

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NY Governor wants special rights for religion..what do you theists think of this?

June 13, 2007

New York State Governor Eliot Spitzer announced on Monday that he will introduce a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) for the state.

Matt Cherry, IHS Executive DirectorThe text of the act is not yet public, but Gov. Spitzer’s office says it will mirror the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.

If this is so, the Institute for Humanist Studies (IHS) will strongly oppose the act as harmful on at least three different grounds: it gives special privileges to religions that are not allowed to any other groups, it potentially gives religions the right to violate the rights of others, and it would create an unfair burden on employers and other secular entities.

Rather disingenuously, Gov. Spitzer’s press release cites the federal RFRA as a model without mentioning that it was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1997 (Boerne v. Flores). In fact, not a single member of the Supreme Court defended the RFRA in the majority, the concurrences, or the dissents! Justice John Paul Stevens opined that RFRA violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment, and provided churches, mosques, temples or other religious groups with a legal instrument "which no atheist or agnostic" could obtain.

The IHS fears that in giving special rights for religions, RFRA will create a two-tier standard of laws: one standard for religious groups and activities and a lower standard for everyone else.

The IHS also questions the extent of existing problems that that could only be remedied by an RFRA. Back when he was attorney general, Spitzer filed numerous suits defending workers whose religious customs had put them at odds with their employers -- a Jewish repairman required to work on his Sabbath, a deliveryman ordered to cut the dreadlocks customary to his religion, a female medical student required to wear clothing considered immodest in her religion -- and he won every single case!

In each of these cases, the courts ruled that the worker’s religious observances should be accommodated by the employer. Given that freedom of religious expression and conduct has been consistently upheld in New York State on a case-by-case basis, further legislation seems unnecessary.

Why, when there are already such effective rights for freedom of religion, is there a demand for more? It seems to me that there is a growing sense of entitlement among religions that makes some people think that they should be exempt from any law if they claim they object to it on religious grounds.

But this sense of entitlement goes against the separation of church and state in the U.S. constitution. As Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia noted when writing for the majority in Employment Div v. Smith in 1990, the religious freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment has never been interpreted to mean "that an individual's religious beliefs excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law prohibiting conduct that the State is free to regulate."

Unfortunately, creating new rights for religions will also place an undue burden on employers and government; nevermind the added burden on New York State taxpayers forced to pay litigation costs created by these new rights, especially if the legislation includes a provision covering the cost of plaintiff attorney’s fees (the ultimate invitation to sue.)

The biggest danger with the RFRA is that people will start using religion as an excuse for illegal conduct, violating laws that were made not to suppress religion but to protect society. When the state of Maryland considered passing a state RFRA, the constitutional scholar Professor Marci Hamilton gave the following warning about its potential consequences:

"Providing extremely demanding scrutiny of every generally applicable, neutral law that burdens religious conduct can and will prompt challenges to the following laws and undermine such laws: abortion regulations; physician assisted suicide regulation; child neglect, abuse and support laws; statutory rape and minimum age marriage laws; laws against domestic violence; zoning and building codes, including height, lot-size, and building size restrictions, on and off-street parking, non-commercial status; antidiscrimination laws that forbid discrimination on the basis of race, gender, disability and sexual orientation; fair housing laws; prison regulations; school weapons bans; midwifery licensing regulations; endangered species protection laws; historical and cultural preservation laws; open space laws; Medicare/Medicaid regulations; literature distribution in the public schools; human reproduction classes in the public schools; prayers in public schools; compulsory education laws; and compulsory vaccination laws."

"This is the just the tip of the iceberg, of course," added Hamilton.

Matt Cherry is the executive director of the Institute for Humanist Studies. He is the author of Introduction to Humanism at the Continuum of Humanist Education, the online school of the Institute for Humanist Studies.

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Without knowing the actual

Without knowing the actual contents of the proposed legislation, I can't say. It should not be taken up lightly.

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I believe there is a

I believe there is a perfectly good argument as to why instating religious rights is indefensible and dangerous. However, what rights/laws is this Governer planning to introduce exactly? The article never says.

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Here is a link to a wiki

Here is a link to a wiki article about the federal act, which they plan to use as a guide.

Here is the full text of the federal act:


Religious Freedom Home Page


Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993
Enrolled Bill (Sent to the President)



One Hundred Third Congress of the United States of America AT THE FIRST SESSION Begun and held at the City of Washington on Tuesday, the fifth day of January, one thousand nine hundred and ninety-three An Act

TITLE: To protect the free exercise of religion.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,


This Act may be cited as the 'Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993'.



    (a) Findings: The Congress finds that--
      (1) the framers of the Constitution, recognizing free exercise of religion as an unalienable right, secured its protection in the First Amendment to the Constitution;
      (2) laws 'neutral' toward religion may burden religious exercise as surely as laws intended to interfere with religious exercise;
      (3) governments should not substantially burden religious exercise without compelling justification;
      (4) in Employment Division v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990) the Supreme Court virtually eliminated the requirement that the government justify burdens on religious exercise imposed by laws neutral toward religion; and
      (5) the compelling interest test as set forth in prior Federal court rulings is a workable test for striking sensible balances between religious liberty and competing prior governmental interests.

(b) Purposes: The purposes of this Act are--

      (1) to restore the compelling interest test as set forth in Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398 (1963) and Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972) and to guarantee its application in all cases where free exercise of religion is substantially burdened; and
      (2) to provide a claim or defense to persons whose religious exercise is substantially burdened by government.


    (a) In General: Government shall not substantially burden a person's exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, except as provided in subsection (b)
    (b) Exception: Government may substantially burden a person's exercise of religion only if it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person--
      (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and
      (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.
    (c) Judicial Relief: A person whose religious exercise has been burdened in violation of this section may assert that violation as a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding and obtain appropriate relief against a government. Standing to assert a claim or defense under this section shall be governed by the general rules of standing under article III of the Constitution.



    (a) Judicial Proceedings: Section 722 of the Revised Statutes (42 U.S.C. 1988) is amended by inserting 'the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993,' before 'or title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964'.
    (b) Administrative Proceedings: Section 504(b)(1)(C) of title 5, United States Code, is amended-
      (1) by striking 'and' at the end of clause (ii);
      (2) by striking the semicolon at the end of clause (iii) and inserting ', and'; and
      (3) by inserting '(iv) the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993;' after clause (iii).


    As used in this Act --
      (1) the term 'government' includes a branch, department, agency, instrumentality, and official (or other person acting under color of law) of the United States, a State, or a subdivision of a State;
      (2) the term 'State' includes the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and each territory and possession of the United States;
      (3) the term 'demonstrates' means meets the burdens of going forward with the evidence and of persuasion; and
      (4) the term 'exercise of religion' means the exercise of religion under the First Amendment to the Constitution.


    (a) In General.--This Act applies to all Federal and State law, and the implementation of that law, whether statutory or otherwise, and whether adopted before or after the enactment of this Act .
    (b) Rule of Construction.--Federal statutory law adopted after the date of the enactment of this Act is subject to this Act unless such law explicitly excludes such application by reference to this Act .
    (c) Religious Belief Unaffected.--Nothing in this Act shall be construed to authorize any government to burden any religious belief.



    Nothing in this Act shall be construed to affect, interpret, or in any way address that portion of the First Amendment prohibiting laws respecting the establishment of religion - referred to in this section as the 'Establishment Clause'. Granting government funding, benefits, or exemptions, to the extent permissible under the Establishment Clause, shall not constitute a violation of this Act . As used in this section, the term 'granting', used with respect to government funding, benefits, or exemptions, does not include the denial of government funding, benefits, or exemptions.

Speaker of the House of Representatives.Vice President of the United States and President of the Senate.


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I've read enough. It seems

I've read enough. It seems like an unfair shifting of burden frankly, from a few fair cases of religious restriction over to defending each and every law individually against religious whim case by case.

Should be burnt.

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If followers of the flying

If followers of the flying spagetti monster will get the same protection, I say ramen.

Seriously, who get's to decide what's a ligitimate religion?

Could one invent their own religion eg. paranoidagnositicism make up rule, such as the requrement for me to always cary a minigun to protect me for all of those people who are out to get me (It's my religious responsibilty to act on my paranoia) Maybe add a few holidays (I hold mondays sacred and am expected to spend them muttering to myself).

Sure my religion has only one member (Others may want to join, but how can I trust them). But does that make it any less true than chrisitanity or can you say it's any less real to me?


Maybe we can support this if, in addition to giving believers special rights we also hold them to the responsibilites of their religion. There are many rules in the bible that christians dont follow, If they take their religion so seriously they should be punnished by the law for breaking those rules. 

Oh, a lesson in not changing history from Mr. I'm-My-Own-Grandpa!

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I will onlly comment once I

I will onlly comment once I know the contents of the legislation.