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July 17, 2020

The First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees both freedom of religion, and the separation of church and state. How far may people go, though, in practicing their religion? What if those religious practices come into conflict with the law?

Proponents of a Religious Liberty Protection Act say that legislation is necessary to stop government encroachment on religious exercise. They point to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in EMPLOYMENT DIVISION v. SMITH (1991) which examined the case of a member of the Native American Church who essentially sough a legal exemption from drug prohibition laws in order to consume peyote -- and illegal hallucinogenic substance -- as part of a religious ritual. The justices ruled that government could impinge on religious practice if “neutral” civil laws were being enforced.

Earlier legislation, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1997 (See Flash Line story). Attempts to pass a similar measure have failed; but last weekend, Sens. Orrin Hatch and Edward Kennedy introduced the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000. Critics say that the legislation would give religious groups unprecedented power to challenge or ignore state, local and federal statutes dealing with everything from zoning and land use to environmental regulations. Another portion of RLUIPA would give prison inmates greater latitude in practicing religion. This appeals to many Christian fundamentalist groups which are seeking to proselytize behind bars, or even have government fund religion-based prison rehab programs. Critics suggests, though, that hate groups are already using bizarre religious beliefs as a way of getting legitimatcy within the penal system.

How far should religious practices be permitted to go? Should sectarian groups be provided exemptions from certain laws that others are required to obey? American Atheist Magazine wants your opinion. We suggest that you first read the latest FLASHLINE story, which discusses a new controversy from Utah involving claims that certain types of ceremonial drug use should have a religion-based exemption. Then we have word of a report from the Southern Poverty Law Center about extremist hate groups operating under the mantle of religious belief within the nation's prison system. Both stories raise questions -- and concerns -- not so much about religious BELIEFS as religious PRACTICES.

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Previous polls:
Battlefield Earth Boycott
Billboards of Hate
FCC Guidelines
Is Christmas A Secular Holiday?
Studying the Bible in Public Schools
Public Funding of Controversial Art Exhibits
Public financing of private schools
Intervention In Kosovo
The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence
Public Piety in Sports
The Pope’s Agenda for America
Blasphemy and the law
Church bulletin Discounts
Assisted Suicide
Paranoid Nation?
Boy Scout Discrimination
The Religious Freedom Amendment
The execution of Karla Faye Tucker.

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