Religious Freedom USA
by Diana Weber
Freedom from Persecution Act
The Freedom from Religious Persecution Act, sponsored by Sen. Arlen Specter and Rep. Frank Wolf, has become a focal point of tension between the legislative and executive branches of government. The legislation would create a White House office to monitor religious persecution throughout the world, ban exports and curtail aid to foreign nations that violate religious freedom, and provide automatic asylum for persecuted religious minorities.
The legislation has the support of the Republican congressional leadership and more than 80 religious leaders who sent letters to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and House Speaker Newt Gingrich urging its passage.
President Clinton, however, opposes the bill. He is joined by the National Council of Churches and others who fear the legislation may actually hurt the people it is designed to help. John Shattuck, Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights, warned that passage of this act could easily prompt reprisals and diminish US influence with nations deemed to be religious persecutors, including key allies who might also fall into that category.
Court allows college graduation prayers
The Supreme Court let stand an Indiana case ruling that said the offering of prayers at a university's graduation exercises does not violate the separation of church and state. The court's refusal to take the case was congruent with its 1992 decision that said that prohibited members of the clergy from leading prayers at public grade school or high school graduation ceremonies but permitted officially sponsored prayers at a public university or city council meeting.
House backs vouchers for DC schools
The House of Representatives passed a bill that would provide $3,200 per student to be used by low-income families to pay tuition costs at private schools, either secular or religious, in the District of Columbia. President Clinton has vowed to veto the spending bill if it comes to him with the school voucher plan.
Yale students sue over forced co-ed dorm
Four Orthodox Jewish students who presently attend Yale University are suing the school over its on-campus housing policy requiring all freshmen and sophomores to live on campus in co-ed dorms. The students argue that the requirement forces them to be exposed to lax sexual attitudes and practices on a regular basis, violating their right to their religious exercise and equal protection under the law.
Bill would toughen rule on workplace freedom
Sens. John Kerry, (D-Mass.) and Dan Coats. (R-Ind.) recently introduced the Workplace Religious Freedom Act of 1997 to strengthen the existing federal law guaranteeing religious freedom in the workplace. The bill curtails employers' ability to limit religious expression and gives employees more flexibility to accommodate their religious practices.
Judge bans display of Ten Commandments
South Carolina Circuit Court Judge R. Markley Dennis Jr. ruled on August 4th that a County display of the Ten Commandments must come down because "government may not affiliate itself with religious symbols or doctrines in a manner that suggests an endorsement of a particular religious faith."