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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE with a briefing July 28, 2000 Contact: David Lachmann (202) 225-2322


Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-Brooklyn and Manhattan) announced the passage of landmark legislation to safeguard religious liberty. The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, or RLUIPA, was enacted last night as Congress was proceeding to adjourn. Passage of this legislation by both the House and Senate ensures that the President will sign it into law before the end of August.

Rep. Nadler, the lead Democratic sponsor of the legislation, said "This bill will provide much needed relief to religious individuals and institutions who have had their rights violated by zoning boards, prison authorities and other governmental agencies. Communities which have attempted to exclude religious groups by, for example, refusing to grant a permit to build a house of worship, or to gather in groups and worship in a home, will have to have to answer to the courts for their actions."

"This legislation does not automatically grant religious institutions and individuals an exemption from state and local laws. What it does do is provide a reasonable balance between the obligation of a community to control development and growth, with the rights of religious Americans to live in, gather in and pray in a community. This legislation, which uses the same balancing test that had been used for decades to protect religious freedom will strike that appropriate balance."

The House Judiciary Committee, of which Rep. Nadler is a senior member, held numerous hearings over several years to determine the extent of the problem and create legislation responding to the facts placed before the committee. This painstaking effort convinced members of Congress that it was necessary, and complied with Supreme Court rulings that require Congressional action in this area to be remedial and in response to documented problems.

In the past, communities have attempted to exclude religious minorities, such as Orthodox Jews who must walk to Sabbath services and who have been excluded from communities by zoning ordinances forbidding residences to be used as places of worship, or Mormons who were denied a permit to build a temple because the zoning board said it would ruin the residential character of the community, even though it was at a busy intersection and across the street from another church. In Boston, the Boston Landmarks Commission attempted to interfere with the placing of an alter in a church, thereby threatening to prohibit the members of the Catholic congregation from praying according to Church teaching.

The bill would also permit prison inmates or patients in hospitals to practice their religions. Jewish prisoners would be able to get kosher food (as the Federal Bureau of Prison rules have long required) and gather in groups to pray.

"Religious liberty is at the core of the American spirit. There can be no personal freedom without freedom of conscience - it is the reason why many of our families came her in the first place," said Congressman Nadler. "By passing this legislation, I am proud to have been part of the effort to ensure that those rights and values remain protected in the future."

RLUIPA had the support of a large and diverse coalition of religious and civil liberties organizations including the Orthodox Union, the Agudath Israel of America, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, The Christian Legal Society, the Leadership Conference of Civil Rights, the ACLU, the Human Rights Campaign, and the National Association of Evangelicals.