December 21, 2014 · 29 Kislev

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Largest Jewish Organization Calls Supreme Court Ruling A Devastating Blow To Religious Liberty

Saperstein: "Today's decision in Flores will go down in history with Dred Scott . . . among the worst mistakes this Court has ever made."

WASHINGTON, June 25, 1997 - The Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, representing 1.5 million Reform Jews and 1,800 Reform rabbis throughout North America, today lamented a Supreme Court ruling which declared unconstitutional the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement in response to the Court's decision in City of Boerne v. Flores which greatly curtails the religious liberties of all Americans:

In the long history of the Supreme Court, its mistakes have become as famous as its triumphs. Today's decision in Flores -- the most important church-state case ever to come before the Supreme Court -- will go down in history with Dred Scott and Korematsu , among the worst mistakes this Court has ever made. Just as in Dred Scott , the Court resorted to a focus on narrow legalisms, allowing a preoccupation with extraneous issues to blind it to the real issue in the case -- are Americans going to remain free to practice their religion protected from undue government interference?

Today, the Court has abdicated its most solemn responsibility, the protection of our liberties.

Today, religious Americans are told that the right to religious freedom -- our first freedom -- is not the province of the highest court in the land.

Today, Americans will once again find that their free exercise of religion will be subject to government regulation even when no significant government interest in the infringement of religion is involved.

Today, with sadness but with determination, Americans who take religion seriously will turn our attention to Trenton and Tallahassee, to Albany and Annapolis, to other state capitals around the nation, working in the same remarkably ecumenical coalition we have forged in Washington, to assure protection of our religious liberty.

Today, some will be tempted to pass a constitutional amendment to mitigate the impact of the ruling. We oppose that. If the amendment is similar to Rep. Istook's so-called "Religious Freedom Amendment," allowing government support for religious prayers, activities, and symbols and for government funding of all types of religious activity, this would be a disaster for religious freedom in America. Even a carefully crafted amendment is fraught with dangers for religious freedom.

Every religious person and organization in America will be affected by this decision. Although, the door to the Supreme Court has been slammed in our faces, we will find other avenues to vindicate our most important rights.

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Note: RFRA provides a high level of protection for religion. Specifically, it ensures that government may not substantially burden the exercise of religion unless it is acting to advance a compelling interest in the most limited way possible (i.e. for public health or safety reasons). The 1993 Act was in response to the Supreme Court's Smith decision which dramatically reduced the protection given to religious practice (494 U.S. 872). The City of Boerne v. Flores case marks the first time the Supreme Court has reviewed RFRA's constitutionality. The Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the Central Conference of American Rabbis joined an amicus brief in support of respondents in City of Boerne v. Flores .

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